When it comes to utilizing stem cells for hair restoration, the therapy should be broken down into “current” and “future”. Currently, doctors are taking existing stem cells from within the body from three sources. The sources are fat, bone marrow, and circulating blood. These stem cells are injected into the scalp to try and promote hair growth.
Fat can be taken out in a liposuction procedure. This can be a small fat sample that does not require a large liposuction procedure. Fat is harvested, which contains the stem cells. Sometimes they are called mesenchymal stem cells and other times they are called stromal vascular adipocytes stem cells. It goes by different names but essentially it is coming from within the fat. The idea behind using fat is that the stem cells are going to release substances to promote and stimulate hair growth.
Although there are similarities, there still has not been any comprehensive study done to compare PRP to stem cell therapy. It is not known whether it works the same or worse. It is definitely more invasive to take out fat and extract adult stem cells compared to taking a blood sample. The process of taking the stem cells from the fat is a little different than using PRP. It is the same idea but the process starts with a big sample in order to get a very small sample. With PRP, the doctor basically injects liquid plasma that is packed with platelets that release growth factors. With the fat, the doctor is working with something that was processed from fat that is a thicker substance containing stem cells. Once again, it is the same idea of trying to stimulate hair follicles. Either way, it is from the patient’s own stem cells.
The final source of stem cells currently used is the bone marrow. A very limited amount of this work has been done so there is a lot that doctors do not know about its use yet. It is known that extracting the stem cells from the bone marrow is not much more of a process than getting it from the fat. It is a little more invasive than the fat but not as much as a person might think. There are debates over whether the stem cells from the fat are better than the bone marrow or vice versa.
The future use of stem cells therapy is sometimes called hair cloning or hair multiplication. It involves cultured cells from the hair follicle. The idea of hair cloning is actually quite old. The research concerning cells from the hair follicle being multiplied in cell cultures and then planted back into mice to grow hair is 20 or 30 years old.
The old line of research involved culturing the cells and expanding them to turn one follicle into thousands of follicles. However, it just did not work when it was tried in humans over the last 10 years.
There is still active research about hair cloning and hair multiplication. The way it was tried in humans did not work. There is a company currently in clinical studies taking out a tiny fraction of stem cells from the hair follicle, culturing it, and then re-injecting it to see the results. It is something that might be approved in the next five years. Then again, whether this is the breakthrough everyone thinks it is or whether it will turn out to be like PRP is unknown at this point.
The person who is going to benefit the most is someone in the earlier stages of hair loss. They are thinning and have a lot of miniaturized (hair). When a person is balding, the hair does not suddenly disappear. It gradually gets thinner until it becomes peach fuzz and this process is called miniaturization. Someone who has a lot of miniaturized hair is going to get the most noticeable benefit from stem cells therapy because they respond by thickening up. This looks like new hair to the patient but it is just thicker and stronger hair. When talking about miniaturization in this case, it refers to someone who still has a significant amount of hair that is thinning. It is not going to help someone who is practically bald. Once those hairs turn into peach fuzz or disappear, there is no bringing them back with this technique.
One big limitation is that doctors do not know to what degree someone is going to respond to the treatment. The response varies from person to person. The second limitation is not knowing how long the results will last. The duration depends on how fast the person is balding. The treatments will last a shorter amount of time on someone who is balding quickly. Finally, the other variable is what other treatments the patient is currently undergoing. Someone who is taking Finasteride or using Minoxidil will get a longer duration of effects. It is not going to be the same results for everyone because of the variables.
There are not very many complications with stem cell therapy. Just a little bruising and swelling is possible from the injections.
When people start to use Rogaine, some of them start shedding. When a person starts a treatment that stimulates new hair growth, any hair that is resting may shed to make way for the new hair. PRP can do the same thing. The first month after a PRP treatment begins, someone may have shedding because new growth has been stimulated and resting hairs can be signaled to shed.
There is no proven best way to use stem cell therapy yet. There are a lot of devices on the market and plenty of doctors doing it slightly different ways. That can be frustrating for the patient. It is like any procedure or transplant where the experience of the doctor matters. The doctor needs to take into account certain factors as well as explain everything to the patient when they come in for a consultation. Sometimes the name PRP or stem cells can make it sound futuristic so some counseling needs to be done about the uncertainty involved in the treatment.
Some people simply call it stem cell hair therapy. Some doctors include PRP within that and others say PRP is separate from that. Also, a lot of people are using fat or bone marrow and calling that stem cell hair therapy. A patient has to find out exactly what the doctor means when discussing a treatment plan.
Written by Cosmetic Town Editorial Team- MA
Based on an exclusive interview with Dr. Jerry Cooley in Charlotte, NC