Frequently I am asked- if a sheep can be cloned, why can’t a simple hair be cloned as well? The reality is, Dolly the sheep was not an exact replica of her mother, but did show that regular adult non-sex cells could be multiplied and their genetic material able to differentiate into different organs, thus making up a complete “being”. Cloning of hair follicles is very difficult because they are not whole organisms, and they are very complex to grow in a petri dish.
What has been shown to be possible so far is that certain cells of the hair follicle- the dermal sheath cells- can be harvested from one individual then when injected into the skin of a DIFFERENT person, can promote the formation of a new hair. It seems these dermal sheath cells, when injected into the skin, stimulate the local cells to form their own hairs that resemble the original hairs.
Now here is the difficult part- getting these inducer or stimulating dermal sheath cells in large enough quantities to be used to stimulate hair growth. Attempts to reliably multiply or culture these cells outside of the body have been met with much difficulty, because they are not only difficult to isolate, but resist multiplication.
The next challenge, once we figure out how to multiply them, will be how to properly inject these cells into the scalp so that they induce hairs to grow. Then, there is no guarantee that the new growing hairs will grow in the right direction, or look like scalp hairs.
Finally, safety concerns are plentiful. Will these cells induce not only the growth of hairs, but also of tumors, or maybe even become malignant. FDA approval will likely take years of clinical testing.
So- this cell multiplication/hair induction technology is likely 6 to 9 years away from any clinical application.
Posted by Jeffrey S. Epstein, MD, FACS