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Stem cell-based treatment for baldness a step closer


February 4, 2014

A new technique for producing large amounts of hair-follicle-generating stem cells has implications for wound healing, cosmetics, and hair regeneration (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new technique for producing large amounts of hair-follicle-generating stem cells has implications for wound healing, cosmetics, and hair regeneration (Photo: Shutterstock)

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As one of the follically-challenged, any new breakthroughs in the area of hair regeneration will generally get my attention. When stem cells first started to gain widespread media attention I, no doubt like many others, thought a full head of hair was just around the corner. But despite numerous developments, years later my dome is still of the chrome variety. Providing the latest cause for cautious optimism, researchers have now developed a way to generate a large number number of hair-follicle-generating stem cells from adult cells.

In what they claim is a world first, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and the New Jersey Institute of Technology have developed a technique to convert adult human stem cells into epithelial stem cells (EpSCs).

By adding three genes to human skin cells called dermal fibroblasts that live in the dermis layer of the skin and generate connective tissue, a team led by Xiaowei "George" Xu, MD, PhD, at the Perelman School of Medicine was able to convert them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The iPSCs, which have the ability to differentiate into any cell type, were then converted into epithelial stem cells (EpSCs) that are normally found at the bulge of hair follicles.

Through careful control of the timing of delivery of growth factors to the cells, the researchers say they were able to turn over 25 percent of the iPSCs into EpSCs in 18 days. When they then mixed these EpSCs with mouse follicular inductive dermal cells and grafted them onto the skin of immunodeficient mice, functional human epidermis and follicles similar to hair follicles were produced.

"This is the first time anyone has made scalable amounts of epithelial stem cells that are capable of generating the epithelial component of hair follicles,” said Xu, who added that these cells have many potential applications, including wound healing, cosmetics, and hair regeneration.

But some hurdles still need to be jumped before I make my first trip to the hairdresser in a decade. Xu points out that when a person loses hair, they lose not only epithelial cells, but also a kind of adult stem cell called dermal papillae. "We have solved one major problem, the epithelial component of the hair follicle. We need to figure out a way to also make new dermal papillae cells, and no one has figured that part out yet."

On a positive note, researchers from the Tokyo University of Science have reported promising results in reconstructing hair follicle germs from adult epithelial stem cells and cultured dermal papilla cells, so even though we haven't rounded the corner yet,it definitely seems to be getting closer.

The teams research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Baldness is a local hormonal change in cells. Rrubbing testosterone cream on your belly would tend to make it hairier, rubbing some kind of hormone on your head would encourage lush, thick hairgrowth. It would seem more logical than using stem cells no?

The question is, which hormone could inhibit the excess of hormones that causes balding, and which one could mimic adolescent hair growth?

It's just a chemical pathway that has yet to be found.

Ooh Bertie

Having been bald since I was 19 [now 70+] I don't have any hangups about it, in fact I can't remember ever having them.

That being said, I know there are a lot of men that think hair loss actually means something, although what exactly they can never explain - maybe they are just insecure. Therefore a plus for the research but I do have to ask 'why?'


Ivan, I could care less about my baldness. I have no insecurities. But Attractive Women unfortunately think otherwise.


I guess they'll research repairing spinal cord injuries once this is in the can.

Russ Jata

I am not especially bothered by aging driven hair loss or greying but I would like a full head of naturally coloured hair again. However, that mild bit of vanity aside the real big deal is being able to easily, affordably reverse a given condition, and in the case of hair, be able to easily and accurately measure the results. Being able to do this on the surface sets the stage for things like rebuilding heat valves, joint surfaces, or restoring eyesight or myelin insulation throughout the central nervous system. And, maybe, or maybe eventually, be able to do so quickly and cheaply. Maybe not soon enough for Stephen Hawking to be able to stand & talk again but, maybe, soon enough for lots of other people.


Alaskakan, I have found just the opposite -- many of the very beautiful women I've met seem to actually find a bald head rather sexy. Just say'n...

Michael Russer

@Russ Jata We have enough researchers and knowledge to pursue breakthroughs in hair loss AND spinal cord injuries. This research doesn't hinder progress in that field or any other field for that matter. Hair loss can really hurt the quality of life for some people. Not to downplay spinal cord injuries at all. But people are affected by this too. And there's plenty of room for progress to be made in both fields - in ALL fields.


I began going bald when I was in my early teens. I am 62 now and have never met a woman who was turned off by my not having a thick top knot. Some have even said a bald headed man was the mark of an "evolved" man. Hmm, when's the last time you saw a bald headed monkey? Ever wonder why your sex drive goes away when you use a hair loss remedy? A surefire method of keeping your hair is to lose your testicles. But, really the fact is DHT is the root cause of hair loss in men and women.


Follicles need to still exist before regeneration. The rule I was given is hair treatment will work if there is still a follicle. General guide is if the scalp is not shiny you have a chance to use various treatments.

Tried the pharma approach and it worked, then I switched to natural and that works too, but not as well.

There are actually established ways to block the bad testosterone.


Replicate process & mass produce & bye Bye Hairclub for Men?? Love this for Outpatient care alone, now how much for this treatment/s?

Stephen Russell

Being a type I diabetic for some 25 years and starting to suffer from the effects of this disease, I can't help but view this as a waste of time, effort and resources. Let's concentrate on the cures for serious diseases and injuries and leave the cosmetic "cures" for later. I don't think hair loss effects the quality of life quite like a serious injury or illness.


People who are saying this research is a waste of resources don't quite grasp the scientific process, or the realities of the limitations of research, in my opinion.

Firstly: Many times scientific solutions to problems present themselves in totally unrelated research. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson even talked about that reality recently on his show Star Talk. Physicist Herman Y. Carr wasn't necessarily trying to create a medical imaging device when experimenting with the resonance of magnetic gradients with different atoms. But his research led to a solution to the problem of non-invasive and safe internal scans of an organism known colloquially as an MRI. Perhaps the motivation of this follicle rejuvenation project is not the most noble of pursuits, but it might lend insight into other problems such as regenerating hair cells in the cochlea, or practical scalable solutions to inducing plenipotentiary, or hey, maybe they'll stumble on a way to hide engineered cells from an immune system. Who knows. Maybe nothing helpful to other research will be discovered. Sometimes it goes that way too. But at times, research is not quite so linear.

Secondly: Last time I checked, there are more scientists/researchers than there is room in any given research project, generally. In other words, There's only a certain amount of money being tossed at cancer research, or stem cell mediated organ replacement, or what ever. So only a certain number of scientists can be working on any given project, and the rest of the scientists need to find some other project to which to apply their skills. There's also diminishing returns to be considered as more research resources are committed to any giving project. To only focus on curing one ailment, would in fact be a waste of resources as it would produce redundancy in data acquisition, and reduce diversity of research in general. Usually, even if all the funding in the world was thrown at a research project, the rate of progress would plateau before the funding was fully utilized because sometimes technology from other fields of research need to be developed first before any more progress can be made.

That said, sometimes there are fields of research that are definitely embarrassingly underfunded. But that's not necessarily because some other research project on hair regrowth is stealing from it. Sometimes "stealing" funding is the case, sure, but hey, the person in charge of how one's grant money is spent was apparently more interested in curing baldness. : /


Wow, the blame and shame crowd is out in full force with this article. Some would love to control what they will ALLOW to be researched and what they won't ALLOW. Well, for now we're free to research whatever the heck we want to. Scientists will work for whoever will pay them so why don't we just stand back and admire the results. If you want spinal chord research then go pay a scientist to do research for you or go do the research yourself. However, make sure you don't make any profit off of your research.


I love it when the clueless read these articles. In their mind, every scientist in the world dropped their microscopes and petri dishes and started working on stem cells for hair growth. Like there aren't scientists already working on stem cells for spinal cord injuries, blindness, etc. Do some Google research if you want to know what's going on in whatever field you're worried about! Trust me, they haven't stopped for anything...


There is no shortage of moralists who ask how dare we use resources to solve a problem such as male pattern baldness. The drive to stay young looking and to postpone death are natural consequences of our fight to survive and the values propogated by our sociaty. Such research can lead to other discoveries and also generate much needed funds in addition to helping men overcome the humiliating (addmittedly self-inflicted), self-consciousness of baldness.


As some of the more erudite commentators point out above, advances in understanding the biological pathways of androgenic alopecia, have significant benefits in medical science for the development of therapies in the treatment of a variety of other diseases.

The human hair follicle is the only organ present at embryonic development, the cell structure of which goes through continous autopsis (ie life and death cycles). If scientists can grasp a better or, a complete understanding of this phsiological phenomena, it opens up a whole new world of research opportunites

Paul Marsden

In the world there are researchers to pursue breakthroughs in hair loss AND spinal cord injuries. This research doesn't stop progress in that field or any other field for that matter.

Baldness can hurt the quality of life for quite a few people. Not to downplay spinal cord injuries at all. I have written a post on my blog on the subject, just to tell my subscribers what my point of view on the matter: http://endhairloss.eu/top-5-hair-loss-treatments/cellular-regeneration/ hope you find it interesting! Giampaolo

Giampaolo Floris
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