Grow New Hair Follicles? Study Offers Hope for Hair Loss

hair loss

According to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, over 88,000 people in the U.S. received hair replacement surgery in 2012. Most of the world, especially Asia, saw the number hair replacement surgeries skyrocket from 2004 to 2012.

A recent study, however, conducted at Columbia University Medical Center may offer new hope to those who have lost or are losing their hair. According to the study, which was conducted on mice, a person’s cells may be utilized in order to grow new hair follicles, which reside under the skin and sprout hair.

Although most of the new hair follicles failed to generate hair that extended past the skin, the researchers believe that additional work could improve the technique and make it a viable option for regrowing hair.

What’s Wrong with Existing Hair Loss Treatments?

The technique explored by the researchers in the study obviously isn’t the first hair loss treatment discovered or developed. However, existing methods don’t actually generate any new hair follicles. Instead, they typically involve transplanting hair from one body area to the head, improving the growth rate of existing hair or mitigating the degeneration of remaining hair follicles. However, many individuals can’t benefit from treatment because they have little hair to begin with – for example, women and those who have suffered an injury resulting in hair loss.

According to dermatology professor Angela M. Christiano, one of the lead researchers behind the study, this new technique requires very little hair in comparison to existing treatment methods, and could prove a better solution for many patients currently excluded from hair regrowth options.

Success, But More Research Remains

In order to conduct their study, the researchers extracted dermal papilla cells from seven individuals with pattern baldness, in which the hairline has receded but some hair still remains around the back of the head. Dermal papilla cells are responsible for producing hair follicles. Once the cells were cultured, they were transplanted onto skin grafts taken from infant foreskin, which was completely free of hair follicles. The skin grafts were attached to mice, which are genetically similar to humans.

Of the seven skin grafts, five grew new hair follicles, indicating the success of the method. The researchers tested the DNA of the new hair follicles to ensure that they ultimately belonged to the same person as the dermal papilla cells. Dermatologist Dr. Michele Green of New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital, who was not involved in the study, described the results as “the future of modern medicine.” Next, the researchers hope to examine ways to make the method more reliable in terms of inciting the dermal papilla cells to generate new hair follicles.

According to dermatologist Dr. George Cotsarelis of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, who also was not involved in the study, the results of the trial are significant but unsurprising because previous studies have suggested that this new hair replacement treatment method may be possible. However, Dr. Cotsarelis is pleased with the study’s focus on analyzing the genetics of dermal papilla cells, as this may furnish a better understanding of exactly how these types of cells generate hair follicles.

At the same time, Dr. Cotsarelis is concerned that the experiment may not be as successful with adult skin as it was with infant foreskin, since the latter is much more adaptable to change, and said that future studies should examine this.

The Bottom Line

A new method of hair replacement that doesn’t require a large amount of existing hair may be possible soon thanks to a recent study. Unlike current hair loss treatments, the new method actually results in the growth of new hair follicles.

The full text of the study can be found online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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