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New Method of Human Hair Growth Discovered

Update Date: Oct 22, 2013 11:04 AM EDT

A new method of human hair growth has been discovered by researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC).

"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," co-study leader Angela M. Christiano, PhD, the Richard and Mildred Rhodebeck Professor of Dermatology and professor of genetics & development, said in a news release. "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."

This treatment could be helpful for women with hair loss, who usually do not receive enough donor hair and men who are affected by baldness in their earlier years.  

"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," said Christiano. "Neither do conventional hair transplants, which relocate a set number of hairs from the back of the scalp to the front."

For the study, researchers used rodent hair and transplanted it back into rodent skin before testing it out on humans. Researchers believed that the reason why the rodent's hair was so easy to transplant unlike human hair is because rodent hair forms clusters in the tissue, which in turn allows new follicles to grow.

"This suggested that if we cultured human papillae in such a way as to encourage them to aggregate the way rodent cells do spontaneously, it could create the conditions needed to induce hair growth in human skin," said first author Claire A. Higgins, PhD, associate research scientist.

Researchers gathered dermal papillae (hair) from seven human donors, which they cloned cells from for a tissue culture. After several days the cultured hair was then transplanted between the dermis and epidermis of human skin which had also been transplanted onto the backs of mice.

Researchers found that the experiment successfully grew human hair in five out of the seven test subjects. According to the study, researchers made sure the new hair was human by performing a DNA test which proved they were. 

The success of this new method is said to be a big step for researchers. "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," said Dr. Christiano.

Researchers say before clinical trials are allowed to begin, more testing will need to be done.

"We need to establish the origins of the critical intrinsic properties of the newly induced hairs, such as their hair cycle kinetics, color, angle, positioning, and texture" said co-study leader Colin Jahoda, PhD, professor of stem cell sciences at Durham University, England, and co-director of North East England Stem Cell Institute. "We also need to establish the role of the host epidermal cells that the dermal papilla cells interact with, to make the new structures."

For researchers, the future improvement for medical hair loss treatment looks more promising than previous methods.  

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 

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