Radical new therapy to tackle baldness is just a hair’s breadth away after discovery

Growing new hair follicles from human skin cells raises hopes not just for people with conventional hairloss but also those with alopecia and burns damage

Science Editor

An effective treatment for chronic hair loss in both men and women has come a step closer with a study showing that it is possible to grow new hair follicles from human skin cells.

The results promise to break a 40-year deadlock in attempts to regenerate the crucial structures in the skin that cause hair to grow, which could lead to radically different therapies for treating unwanted baldness, especially in women.

Human hair follicles have proved notoriously difficult to replicate in the laboratory, but a new technique has shown that they can be stimulated to grow in skin tissue and made to produce hair shafts.

Instead of simply transplanting hair follicles from one part of the body to another - which is how hair transplants are currently carried out - a patient's own skin tissue could be used to produce virtually unlimited quantities of follicles for hair-transplant operations, scientists said.

An Anglo-American team of researchers believes the research represents a "milestone advance" in the attempt to stimulate active hair growth in people suffering from chronic hair loss, such as burns victims and women with alopecia, as well as male baldness.

"This approach has the potential to transform the medical treatment of hair loss," said Professor Angela Christiano of Columbia University in New York, one of the lead authors of the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Current hair-loss medications tend to slow the loss of hair follicles or potentially stimulate the growth of existing hairs, but they do not create new hair follicles. Neither do conventional hair transplants, which relocate a set number of hairs from the back of the scalp to the front," Professor Christiano said.

"Our method, in contrast, has the potential to actually grow new follicles using a patient's own cells. This could greatly expand the utility of hair-restoration surgery to women and to younger patients - now it is largely restricted to the treatment of male-pattern baldness in patients with stable disease," she said.

About nine out of ten women with serious hair loss cannot undergo conventional hair transplants because they do not have enough of the necessary hair follicles elsewhere in the body. This new method could generate large numbers of new hair follicles, or regenerate existing follicles, from just a few hundred donor hairs, Professor Christiano said.

"It could make hair transplantation available to individuals with a limited number of follicles, including those with female-pattern hair loss, scarring alopecia and hair loss due to burns," she said.

Specialised cells called the dermal papillae can be induced to form hair follicles in laboratory rats but the same process has evaded scientists working on human dermal papillae for 40 years, said Professor Colin Jahoda of Durham University, the co-leader of the study.

Human dermal papilla cells do not respond in the same way as rat cells when grown in conventional, flat culture dishes. But when they are grown in three-dimensional "spheroids" - drops hanging down from a glass slide - they can be re-programmed into dermal papillae that can trigger the formation of hair follicles when transplanted into human skin grown on the backs of mice, Professor Jahoda said.

Seven patients donated skin cells for the research and in five cases the resulting hair follicles caused the regrowth of human hair on the back of the experimental mice which lasted for at least six weeks, he said.

"It's a key step because it is saying that you can multiply the process. It's not just about one-for-one replacement. But you need to get hair that is the right colour and texture and this will need further work before human clinical trials can begin," he said.

"We also think that this study is an important step toward the goal of creating a replacement skin that contains hair follicles for use with, for example, burn patients," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Graphic Designer / Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a Junior Graphic Designer / ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Finance Assistant - Automotive

£15500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Recruitment Genius: General Maintenance Person - Automotive

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Meeter-Greeter - Automotive

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen