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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions