Functioning hair follicles have been grown in hairless mice by researchers in Japan, offering hope of a future treatment for baldness and alopecia in humans. The study is the first to report creating viable hair follicles using human cells, according to Nature News.
The hair follicles were created using stem cells taken from mice and balding men, and were grown in the laboratory. The follicles were then injected under the skin of hairless mice and within five weeks new hair growth was seen. Hair follicles bioengineered using adult human stem cells taken from the scalp of a balding man also successfully grew hair, indicating that this technique has potential for application in humans, according to the researchers involved.
Professor Takashi Tsuji, who led the research at the Tokyo University of Science pointed out the potential of the research in future treatment of baldness. He told Reuters: 'We take a small amount of hair [from the patient's scalp] and through bioengineering, multiply or increase the hair follicles. Once we've created enough we will be able to surgically transplant the regenerated hairs'.
The research, published in Nature Communications, reported that the implanted hairs connected well with the surrounding muscles and nerves, and responded normally to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, known to make hair stand up. The hair follicles also displayed normal growth cycles, regenerating new growth after old hairs had fallen out.
By altering the types of cells used to bioengineer the hair follicles, the researchers were able to alter the properties of the hairs, such as pigmentation, suggesting that the technique may also have potential in restoring natural hair colour.
However, any future treatment would need to go through clinical trials and it is likely to be several years before it may become available. 'We would like to start clinical research within three to five years, so that an actual treatment to general patients can start within a decade', another of the researchers, Dr Koh-ei Toyoshima, a project researcher at the Research Institute for Science and Technology, was quoted by IOL SciTech as saying.
The Daily Mail also pointed out that the treatment would not be cheap, with stem cell treatments likely to cost thousands of pounds.