NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Researchers may have hit a breakthrough for the millions of balding men and women.
As CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, researchers have for the first time generated new human hairs.
Dr. Angela Christiano and colleagues at Columbia University Medical Center have for the first time been able to grow new human hair follicles from a handful of cells in the lab.
“This approach could actually be used to make brand new hairs,” Dr. Christiano said.
However, Dr. Gomez reported that growing new human hairs turns out to be pretty hard. Researchers found it was easy to take some donor hair follicles and then separate out the stem cells that will make new follicles.
The next step of the process had been stumping researchers, though.
“They begin to lose their memory that they came from a hair follicle, and so part of our job has been to try to restore that memory by growing them under different culture conditions,” Dr. Christiano said.
The Columbia researchers figured out that the follicle cells need to be in three-dimensional contact with each other.
After cutting off the cells from the bottom of the follicle, known as the papilla, researchers grew the cells in hanging drops so they would clump together at the bottom of the drop.
That reactivated their genetic memory.
“Their hair follicle memory takes over and they begin to actually secrete factors that are much more like how they were intact in the hair follicle,” Dr. Christiano said.
The final step was transplanting the lab-grown follicle cells into hairless human skin.
“In about five out of our seven donors, we were able to get hairs that were induced and even growing new hair shafts,” Dr. Christiano said.
The technique could be especially useful for people who don’t have enough donor hairs for a transplant, which is a common problem for balding women.
Another use would be for burn victims who can’t grow hair on their scarred skin.
But before you get too excited, so far this has just been done on human skin transplanted onto mice.
Clinical trials are at least five years away, but the research could mean help for the hairless may be on the way.
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