Scientists have discovered how to grow human hair in a laboratory in a pioneering technique that could offer a “cure” for baldness.
Researchers took a clump of cells responsible for hair growth from seven human donors, cloned the cells then transplanted them into human skin grafted onto the back of mice.
In five of the tests the transplants sprouted human hair that lasted six weeks. DNA tests confirmed the new hair follicles were human and a genetic match to the cell donors.
Although the research is at an early state, the British and American team is confident clinical trials can begin soon.
Professor Angela Christiano, from New York’s Columbia University Medical Centre, said: “Current hair-loss medications tend to slow the loss of hair follicles or potentially stimulate the growth of existing hairs, but they do not create new hair follicles.
“Neither do conventional hair transplants, which relocate a set number of hairs from the back of the scalp to the front. Our method, in contrast, has the potential to actually grow new follicles using a patient’s own cells.
“This could greatly expand the utility of hair restoration surgery to women and to younger patients – now it is largely restricted to the treatment of male-pattern baldness in patients with stable disease.”
Hair-growth cells are found at the base of hair follicles and are known as dermal papillae (skin nipples).
The research continues work by Professor Colin Jahoda at the University of Durham showing that dermal papillae in rodents could be harvested and transplanted back into the skin.
The transplanted cells tend to clump together spontaneously and re-programme the recipient’s skin to grow new hair follicles.
As well as offering hope for men and women who suffer from natural baldness, the research offers hope for the treatment of burn victims.
“This method offers the possibility of inducing large numbers of hair follicles or rejuvenating existing hair follicles, starting with cells grown from just a few hundred donor hairs,” said Prof Christiano.
“It could make hair transplantation available to individuals with a limited number of follicles, including those with female-pattern hair loss, scarring alopecia and hair loss due to burns.”