The Hair Club for Men might be in trouble. Advances in hair regeneration techniques continue as though baldness is an affliction, rather than an awesome gift, but we can debate the merits of this another time. Right now, we’re oohing and ahhing over a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that demonstrates how we might be able to regrow hair follicles—after we graft human skin tissue onto mice, naturally.
Stem cell researchers at Columbia University and Durham University have successfully grown new hair from cells harvested from donors’ hair follicles. While there have been quite a few advances in hair regrowth in the past few years, this is the first that actually produces the growth of new human hair.
The new technique, called neogenesis, involves growing cells from donor hairs and eventually using these to prompt new growth from existing follicles. In the past, new cells weren’t able to induce new growth, and the researchers believe that’s because the cells were grown in petri dishes, which cause significant and rapid molecular changes that render the cells unable to promote hair growth. In this study, researchers were able to create more of a three-dimensional environment in the petri dish, using something called papilla spheroids.
The first step of the experiment is to remove skin still capable of growing hair from the back of a lucky donor’s head. Researchers then harvest cells containing hair-growing genes from the skin strip. They grow those cells in a tissue culture made from…um…post-circumcision foreskins. Yeah. Let’s give that a WTF and then move on. I mean, those babies don’t really need that skin, right? As the cells are cultured, the scientists rotate the dish to facilitate cell clumping. Man, this stuff is gross. Today is a rare day that I’m glad I’m not a scientist.
So now we’ve got this nice new skin tissue with human hair cells, which the scientists then graft onto mice. Just for clarification, the mice were not bald, nor were they members of Hair Club For Mice. Still, five of the seven mice in the study grew new hair for at least six weeks. And what’s more, the mouse-grown hair still contained the donor’s DNA.
Columbia’s Angela Christiano, lead author of the study, has alopecia (you might know of this disease from Arrested Development’s Stan Sitwell, whose fake eyebrows are always falling off), an affliction that affects about 2% of the world’s population and causes hair to fall out in large patches. While the new technique still needs to be tested on people (clinical trials will start soon), Christiano hopes this process will revolutionize hair loss treatments for people with alopecia, burn victims, and others whose baldness causes them grief. I hear Mr. Bigglesworth has volunteered to test the procedure for cats.