Hair cloning eyed as futuristic hair loss therapy
International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery Reviews Promising New Research in
Follicular Cell Implantation
Geneva, IL – June 3, 2014. With hair restoration surgery at an all-time high worldwide, researchers are continually investigating new technologies and therapies to further enhance hair restoration and expand the use of this refined surgery as the demand for permanent hair loss solutions continues to grow. Lately, follicular cell implantation – commonly referred to as “hair cloning” – has been generating significant buzz as a potential hair loss therapy that could one day use the power of cells to restore hair.
While cell therapy may be years away from helping the millions of men and women suffering from hair loss, hair restoration surgeons are encouraged by cell therapy research conducted over the past decade and its future potential in fighting hair loss. In fact, a 2013 Practice Census conducted by the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) in which members were asked what they thought would be the next technological leap in hair restoration found that cloning/stem cells/cell therapy/cell growth/tissue engineering was the most common response – with 53 percent of members believing this area holds the most potential.
“Research in cell therapy to stimulate hair growth has really evolved over the past 10 years, with the next generation of research focusing on using cells unrelated to hair growth to create ‘folliculogenic’ stem cells to regrow hair,” said Jerry E. Cooley, MD, of Charlotte, North Carolina, and past president of the ISHRS.
In early research, Dr. Cooley explained that cells from the patients’ hair follicles would be isolated, multiplied in cell culture, and then used therapeutically. In the simplest technique, dissociated cultured cells are implanted into the skin in the hope that they will create new follicles (known as “follicular neogenesis”). While several research groups have tried this technique in the last decade, none have been successful.
Other ways to stimulate hair growth that have been studied include implanting cells and having them attach themselves to existing follicles and give properties of the donor cells to the miniaturizing follicle, as well as beginning the follicular neogenesis process either in culture dishes or in animals acting as intermediate hosts. In the latter, the implantation could then be carried out like a standard hair transplant, placing individual “bio-engineered” grafts into recipient sites.
“In the past, we have always thought of the patient’s hair follicle as the donor source for cells, but this creates certain limitations – particularly with the generation of epithelial stem cells which, by their very nature, are often in short supply,” said Dr. Cooley. “Now, the latest research raises the question of what if we could create unlimited epithelial stem cells.”
New studies using cell therapy to generate human epithelial stem cells to grow hair demonstrates an exciting area of research that is offering a new perspective on how cell therapy could generate hair growth.
In a new report published earlier this year¹, researchers succeeded – for the first time – in turning “induced pluripotent stem cells” (“iPSCs”, which resembled embryonic stem cells in their ability to differentiate into a large variety of cell types) into epithelial stem cells capable of generating all normal epithelial layers of the human hair follicle. In addition, when the epithelial stem cells were combined with dermal cells and injected into immunodeficient mice, they generated hair follicles with all the normal markers.
“While this report is a very exciting breakthrough, it is important to note that the process of taking a normal body cell and turning it into a hair-generating epithelial stem cell involves multiple steps using agents that alter the basic genetic expression – thus raising the concern of tumor formation,” said Dr. Cooley. “Any therapy based on these techniques will likely take years of validation and testing to ensure its safety.”
Dr. Cooley added that although the discovery of viable epithelial stem cells in this report helps in providing a solution for half of the hair cloning puzzle, hair-inducing dermal cells are still needed to achieve follicular neogenesis.
“Given the advances in stem cell biology, it is safe to assume that it is only a matter of time before researchers develop a method to generate hair-inductive dermal cells from other cell types,” said Dr. Cooley. “It will take considerable time and research to test these new concepts, but the dream of unlimited hair is becoming a more realistic possibility as we gain a greater understanding of cell therapy.”
About the ISHRS
Founded in 1993, the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) is a non-profit medical association with a membership of over 1,000 physicians worldwide dedicated to the advancement of the art and science of hair restoration. The mission of the ISHRS is to achieve excellence in patient outcomes by promoting member education, international collegiality, research, ethics, and public awareness. For more information and to locate a physician, visit www.ishrs.org.
About the ISHRS Practice Census Survey
Conducted by Relevant Research, Inc. of Chicago, IL (USA), the ISHRS 2013 Practice Census survey is a compilation of information provided solely by participating physicians. The information published in this survey was developed from actual historical information and does not include any projected information. The margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 6.5 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. For a full reprint of the ISHRS 2013 Practice Census Report, visit http://www.ishrs.org/statistics-research.htm.
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¹ Yang, R., et al. Generation of folliculogenic human epithelial stem cells from induced pluripotent stem cells. Nat Commun. 2014 (Jan); 5:3071.