22nd October 2013 - Scientists say they have taken an important step towards curing baldness by generating human hair growth.
The technique involves using cloned human hair cells to induce hair growth rather than redistributing hair from one part of the scalp to another.
The researchers from Durham University and Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in the US say that, although still at an early stage, the technique could significantly expand the use of hair transplantation to women with hair loss, who tend to have insufficient donor hair, as well as to men in early stages of baldness.
The research could also be "an important step" in creating replacement skin with hair follicles to aid the recovery of burn patients.
One way in which hair growth can be generated is to implant dermal papillae - a small group of cells at the base of the hair follicle - into the scalp. Although this has been demonstrated using rodent dermal papillae transplanted back into rodent skin, it has not been successful in humans.
Unlike human dermal papillae, rodent papillae tend to spontaneously clump together creating their own tissue environment, and since they remained as a collective this ultimately helped them to reprogramme the recipient skin to grow new follicles.
Study first author Dr Claire Higgins, a Durham University graduate, now based at CUMC, says this suggested that if human papillae could be cultured to encourage them to clump together as they do in rodents, the conditions could be created to induce hair growth in human skin.
A genetic match
To test this theory, researchers at CUMC harvested dermal papillae from 7 human donors and cloned the cells in tissue culture. No additional growth factors were added to the cultures.
After a few days, the cultured papillae, termed spheroids of cells, were transplanted between the dermis and epidermis layers of human skin that had been grafted onto the backs of mice. In five of the seven tests, the transplants resulted in new hair growth that lasted at least six weeks.
DNA analysis confirmed that the new hair follicles were human and genetically matched the donors.
The study appears in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Need for further research
Study co-author Professor Colin Jahoda, in the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, at Durham University says in a statement: "We need to establish the origins of the critical intrinsic properties of the newly induced hairs, such as their hair cycle kinetics, colour, angle, positioning, and texture.
"We also need to establish the role of the host epidermal cells that the dermal papilla cells interact with, to make the new structures."
Professor Jahoda, who is also co-director of the North East Stem Cell Institute (NESCI), adds: "Ultimately we think that this study is an important step toward the goal of creating a replacement skin that contains hair follicles for use with, for example, burn patients."
'Microenvironmental reprogramming by three-dimensional culture enables dermal papilla cells to induce de novo human hair-follicle growth, Claire Higgins et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Press release, Durham University.
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