Over the years, many so-called cures for baldness have come, quickly been proven ineffective, then disappeared. Most people now know that rubbing a potion on their scalp or swallowing magic pills won’t do much to make their hair grow back. While there are some solutions to hair loss, ranging from restoration procedures to medications, few things have been able to restore lost hair and keep new hair from falling out, but with inconsistent results for the most part.
But, recent studies from scientists are beginning to pave the way to new solutions, and perhaps even cures, for hair loss. Research involving stem cells recently made a breakthrough. While there’s not yet a cure for baldness, the new research seems promising and could lead to more developments down the road.
Stem Cell Basics
Stem cells are human cells that can ultimately develop into any type of body cell. For example, a stem cell can remain a stem cell, or develop into a brain cell, skin cell or muscle cell, among others. When people first began research involving stem cells, there were two basic types. Embryonic stem cells came from embryos, initially from the embryos of mice, but later from human embryos created in a lab setting using in vitro fertilization.
The other type of stem cell, adult or somatic stem cells, are found in certain organs in adult humans. Somatic stem cells are typically more limited than embryonic stem cells when it comes to their availability and their ability to differentiate themselves.
A third type of stem cell, induced pluripotent stem cells, was first found in humans in 2007. Induced pluripotent stem cells are cells that began as somatic stem cells but were manipulated into being embryonic stem cells, giving them the ability to develop into any other type of cell in the body.
Human pluripotent stem cells were used by researchers in the Development, Aging and Regeneration Program at La Jolla’s Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in an attempt to see if stem cells could play a part in reversing hair loss or in causing hair growth.
The scientists managed to develop the stem cells into neural crest cells and ultimately into dermal papillae, the cells that are responsible for the formation and growth of hair follicles. The dermal papillae cells were then transplanted onto the bodies of hairless mice. The mice were soon covered in hair.
The study also examined whether or not existing dermal papillae, taken from human scalps, could produce the same effect. Transplanted existing dermal papillae did not result in a significant amount of hair growth. As Alexey Terskikh, Ph.D, one of the researchers on the project, explained, "dermal papilla cells cannot be readily amplified outside of the body, [as] they quickly lose their hair-inducing properties."
So far, the scientists have only been able to perform the study on mice. They plan on testing the stem cell-derived dermal papillae on human subjects next, but that study is still in the works.
Benefits of Stem Cells vs. Transplants
If the stem cell research goes forward and it is found that stem cells are a viable option when it comes to hair loss treatment for humans, the treatment can someday offer several benefits to patients over a hair transplant. Transplant procedures are often limited by the amount of hair a person has that isn’t subject to male or female pattern baldness. Usually, hair loss due to male or female pattern baldness occurs on the top of the hair, leaving hair on the back and sides intact. It’s the hair from the back and sides that is transplanted to the bald areas on the top of the head.
Part of the art of a well done hair transplant is moving the hair from one area to another while producing natural looking results. Few patients want a large bald spot on the side of their head, for example, in exchange for correcting the bald spot on top of the scalp. Since stem cells have the potential to create new hair follicles, if the treatment does end up working, it would eliminate the need to transplant existing follicles.
In the Meantime . . .
While researchers continue to examine the role that pluripotent stem cells can play in the treatment of hair loss, hair restoration surgery remains the best and only permanent treatment option for patients coping with male or female pattern baldness. In addition, medications like finasteride, and treatments like laser light therapy, can help in the battle. If you are losing your hair and want to do something about it, speaking to a hair restoration specialist, such as Dr. Jeffrey Epstein, is the best first step.
Dr. Epstein can evaluate your hair loss and let you know if a hair transplant or other option is best for you. He sees patients at his practices in New York City and in Miami. To schedule a consultation in Miami, call (305) 666-1774. Dial (212) 759-3484 to schedule an appointment at the New York office.