Although baldness isn’t a life-threatening condition, it can still take a toll on those that are forced to deal with it. It’s no coincidence that there are countless remedies claiming to “cure” baldness and restore hair to those who want it. Although there are many effective treatments available, none are a perfect fix.
Researchers from the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research in Japan think they may have found one. It involves growing hair follicles in the lab before implanting them in the patient’s scalp. The bio-engineered follicles mimic the cyclical regeneration patterns of natural hair. It could be an innovative new way to treat baldness if it’s effective on a wider scale.
The team published its research last week in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
In recent years, the trend of growing things in labs has become increasingly popular. Whether it’s meat, trees, or something in-between, scientists have realized that more things can be grown in the lab than one may think. That includes hair follicles.
The RIKEN team went through 220 combinations of ingredients before finding the ideal mixture to produce regenerating hair follicles. The process, which requires the use of hair follicle stem cells, seems to be highly effective based on the study’s early results.
The team found that 81 percent of the lab-grown hair cells went through at least three cycles of hair production. Takashi Tsuji, the team’s leader, says, “Our culture system establishes a method for cyclical regeneration of hair follicles from hair follicle stem cells and will help make hair follicle regeneration therapy a reality in the near future.”
Typically, human hair follicles grow a hair, let it fall out, and then regrow a new piece to replace it. The lab-grown follicles work in roughly the same way. However, they seem to be more effective than follicles which aren’t treated with the research team’s mixture of ingredients.
Researcher Makoto Takeo says, “In contrast, only 13 percent [of follicles] reached three cycles when it [the ingredient mixture] was not present.”
That’s an interesting finding that could explain the need for continued hair loss treatment. Until now, approaches haven’t necessarily accounted for the fact that follicles stop being effective over time. If researchers are able to grow super-powered hair follicles in the lab using a patient’s stem cells and then implant them into their head, the technique could quickly blossom into a legitimate hair loss treatment.
Promising Baldness Treatment
For now, the team is studying its method with animals. It intends to pursue a human-based clinical trial in the coming days, though. Tsuji says, “RIKEN is primarily an institute that does basic research and clinical trials usually require outside collaborators. We are therefore looking for a partner company to help develop the clinical applications and welcome donations to promote the R&D.”
Tsuji has a point, of course. Carrying out a clinical trial is a costly, time-consuming endeavor. Before his team can hope to bring this revolutionary hair loss treatment to real-life patients, it will need to undergo a lot more testing. Still, it provides hope that there may be a better approach to baldness on the horizon.