Cure for baldness on the horizon
MedWire News: Researchers in Japan have used stem cells to create hair follicles that can grow hair when transplanted into bald patches of skin.
The technique is in its infancy and the "bioengineered" follicles have only been tested in mice, but nevertheless the findings could eventually lead to a cure for baldness.
The work was led by Professor Takashi Tsuji, an expert in organ replacement at Tokyo University of Science, and used stem cells obtained from human volunteers.
Stem cells are considered special because they have the potential to develop into highly specialized cells with specific biologic functions. In this study Professor Tsuji's team stimulated the stem cells to develop into hair follicle germ cells, whose job is to grow hair.
The team then implanted these bioengineered cells into the skin of bald mice, where they began to grow hair, just like normal follicles.
Indeed, the bioengineered follicles acted like normal follicles in other ways, such as being able to contract and make the hair "stand on end". Furthermore, following a "hair cycle" whereby hairs grew, died, and fell out, new hairs grew in their place.
The bioengineered follicles also made connections with other structures within the skin, such as the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin), muscles, and nerves.
The research supports the potential of bioengineering "not only to restore a hair follicle but also to re-establish successful connections with the recipient skin," Professor Tsuji and co-authors write in Nature Communications.
They believe the technique could prove useful for people with hair loss caused by injury or by diseases such as alopecia, and call for further studies of regenerative therapy using adult stem ells.
MedWire (www.medwire-news.md) is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012
By Joanna Lyford