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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map