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How Stem Cell Research May Help End Baldness

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New research on male pattern baldness suggests there may be a remedy to eliminate the need for comb-overs, toupees, hats, and Rogaine. The American Hair Loss Association reports that two-thirds of men will experience hair loss by the age of 35. Women are also affected by hair loss and make up 40 percent of all hair loss sufferers. Baldness deeply affects self-image and emotional health; unfortunately, the condition is not an easy one to treat. But a new study brings a glimmer of hope thanks to advances in stem cell research.

What Exactly Are Stem Cells?

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Stem cells are body cells from which all other types of cells with specific functions are generated. They divide to form more cells, called daughter cells, under proper conditions. These daughter cells then either become new stem cells or cells of the brain, blood, bone, heart muscle or other vital tissues. Only stem cells have the natural ability to generate new types of cells. They can come from embryos, adult tissues, amniotic fluid, and umbilical cord blood.

Because of this ability to generate a variety of cells, stem cells have received plenty of attention in the medical world over the past few years. They have the potential to generate healthy cells to replace diseased cells. Stem cells can also be used to test new drugs for safety and effectiveness while helping us increase our understanding of how diseases come about.

Newest Study on Stem Cells and Hair Growth

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A new treatment is being developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, where researchers claim that they have been able to successfully convert human cells from stem cells to regenerate missing hair follicles. So far, the method has worked on mice with thinning hair. Human skin cells were transformed into follicle-producing stem cells. After implantation of these cells, a variety of cell types of human skin and hair follicles were regenerated.

According to the study’s lead researcher, Dr. George Xu, this study marked the first where anyone has been able to successfully produce significant amounts of stem cells that can produce the epithelial part of hair follicles. The cells are claimed to even be used for cosmetic use and healing wounds.

How Researchers Conducted the Study

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Stem cells have long been thought to possibly aid in the realm of baldness and thinning of hair, but there have been no studies up to now that have been successful at generating a significant number of hair follicles. In the University of Pennsylvania study, researchers started off with dermal fibroblasts, which are human skin cells. Three genes were then added which helped convert the cells into stem cells called iPSCs, and are able to turn into various body cell types.

The iPSC cells were then transformed into epithelial (skin) stem cells, normally found in the hair follicle. It’s this last conversion that is paramount to the stimulation and growth of hair. When cell growth was carefully times, the researchers discovered that they were able to develop significant numbers of such cells.

Not Ready for Humans Just Yet

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While the results of such a study are promising, there are still a few hurdles that have yet to be overcome before the technique is sure to work on humans. Dr. Xu says that these cells are not necessarily ready for humans just yet because only a part of the entire equation has been solved to date. When a person loses hair, not only are epithelial cells lost, but also dermal papillae, a type of adult stem cell. While one major problem has been solved, researchers still need to determine how to develop new dermal papillae cells, which no one has been able to figure out just yet.

On the brighter side of things, Dr. Xu says he hopes that within the next decade or so, his team will be able to figure out the development of dermal papillae cells, which are critical in stimulating hair growth. Both components could help scientists grow hair follicles in a laboratory until they are implanted into a patient.

On another note, scientists from the Tokyo University of Science claim that they have showed encouraging results in redeveloping hair follicle germs from adult skin stem cells and dermal papilla cells. So while we still haven’t exactly turned this corner, we definitely seem to be getting there.

Will Stem Cells be a Cure for Male Pattern Baldness?

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There certainly is some promise in the ability for stem cells to combat baldness in humans. The fact that researchers were able to generate human skin stem cells and demonstrate the production of some cells found in skin, such as hair follicles, is highly encouraging to other researchers in this field who are diligently working at the regeneration of hair follicles for humans.

However, the research is still in its early stages. The current experiments that have been conducted have only taken place in a lab setting using cell cultures. More lengthy studies have not been able to be conducted yet because of ethical restrictions placed on scientists for animal experimentation; therefore the study doesn’t fully show whether the hair follicles would continue to regenerate over time. Further research is needed to reach the point of human studies, despite the promising future stem cells have in regenerating hair growth in those with thinning or balding hair.

Kara is more than just a do-it-all writer; she's also a jetsetter who has experienced cities and cultures around the world! Find Kara on LinkedIn!

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