Exciting news has come to the follicularly- challenged. A researcher at Columbia University in NYC, Dr. Angela Christiano, has successfully multiplied hair follicle stem cells that then were able to grow hair on real human skin. Of course, the skin was infant foreskin (chosen for being completely hairless naturally), and it was grafted (or permanently placed) onto research rats.
The stem cells, called papilla cells, are what drives the growth of hairs from human hair follicles. They are present in all follicles, and are responsible for causing hair growth. It has long been speculated that if there were some way these papilla cells could be obtained in sufficient quantity then implanted into bald scalps, they could then initiate the growth of normal hairs. The challenge up to now has been the difficulty in multiplying- or growing- enough of these papilla cells so that they could then be used to cause hair growth. Dr. Christiano figured out a technique to grow these cells in large quantities, where instead of lining up the cells one by one next to each other, they were permitted to clump together. Allowed such close 3-dimensional contact, the papilla cells responded to this by then growing new hairs when injected into the hairless foreskin.
The research team warns at this point that the technique is still under early development, and that it could be years until it can be effectively utilized in real humans, instead of rats with human foreskin grafted onto their backs. Currently, there are quite other effective techniques for restoring hair to bald or thinning areas. Appropriate for most men and women, the most common technique is hair transplantation, or hair grafting.
Hair transplantation involves the redistribution of an individual’s own hairs, taken from areas of plenty (usually the back and/or sides of the scalp) and placed into the areas of hair loss. Once transplanted, these hairs will continue to grow for life. There are two methods for obtaining the donor hairs. The more common and familiar is the “strip” or follicular unit grafting (FUG) technique, whereby all the hairs are dissected from a single strip or piece of scalp from the back of the head. While sutured closed, this donor strip usually heals as a fine line scar, but in some cases it can widen and be visible with the hair worn short.
The other more contemporary hair grafting technique is called follicular unit extraction (FUE), where the donor hairs are removed one by one from the back of the head. The main advantage of FUE- no linear donor site scar, permitting patients to cut their hair as short as desired, a huge improvement. Both the FUE and FUG techniques are, when properly performed, usually equally effective in women as well as men.