Biotechnology researchers have discovered a way to use stem cells to regrow human hair!
Stem cells and the emerging field of regenerative medicine is changing the very nature of healthcare from drug discovery to astounding new treatments. Now, several different groups of researchers are poised to leverage this technology in a remarkable way to end baldness!
One start-up, a company called dNovo, recently released a photo to the press of a mouse sprouting a dense clump of human hair—the result of a transplant of what the company says are human hair stem cells.
The company’s founder is Ernesto Lujan, a Stanford University-trained biologist. He says his company can produce the components of hair follicles by genetically “reprogramming” ordinary cells, like blood or fat cells. More work needs to be done, but Lujan is hopeful that the technology could eventually treat “the underlying cause of hair loss.”
The chance of replacing hair is one corner in a wider exploration of whether reprogramming technology can defeat the symptoms of aging. In August, MIT Technology Review reported on a company, Altos Labs, that plans to explore whether people can be rejuvenated using reprogramming. Another start-up, Conception, is trying to extend fertility by converting blood cells into human eggs.
So far, there have been only a few demonstrations of reprogramming as a way to treat patients. Researchers in Japan tried transplanting retina cells into blind people. Then, last November, a US company, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, said it might have cured a man’s type 1 diabetes after an infusion of programmed beta cells, the kind that respond to insulin.
Whether dNovo’s technique to solve baldness via stem cell reprogramming remains to be seen; however, there certainly is a market should it work. About half of men undergo male-pattern baldness, some starting in their 20s. When women lose hair, it’s often a more general thinning, but it’s no less a blow to self-image.
Right now, there are some approved drugs for hair loss, like Propecia and Rogaine, but they’re of limited use. Another procedure involves cutting strips of skin from someplace where a person still has hair and surgically transplanting those follicles onto a bald spot. Lujan says in the future, hair-forming cells grown in the lab could be added to a person’s head with a similar surgery.
So, is stem-cell technology going to cure baldness or become the next false hope? Geoff Hamilton, CEO of Stemson, another start-up company taking a similar approach to hair loss as dNovo, said at the recent Global Hair Loss Summit, “We have seen so many [people] come in and say they have a solution. That has happened a lot in hair, and so I have to address that. We’re trying to project to the world that we are real scientists and that it’s risky to the point I can’t guarantee it’s going to work.”