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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project