There is new hope on the horizon for women who suffer from balding on their heads. The use of a hair transplant has traditionally been thought of as a “guy thing” employed mostly by men with male pattern baldness. While a large number of women suffer from balding, their hair transplants options have been more limited than men. This fact might change soon thanks to the work of a team of researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
In October 2013, a group of Columbia University Medical Center researchers announced a new hair restoration method. What makes this method different from previous procedures is that it can generate new human hair growth. This is a significant change from the traditional transplant method of moving, or redistributing hair, from one part of the body to the scalp. This new hair restoration method promises to help both women with hair loss as well as men in early baldness stages.
One of the main problems women have had with hair transplants in the past is they tend to have an insufficient amount of donor hair available for a transplant. According to a study published in October 2013 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), “About 90 percent of women with hair loss are not strong candidates for hair-transplantation surgery because of insufficient donor hair.” This is according to co-study leader Angela M. Christiano, PhD, the Richard and Mildred Rhodebeck Professor of Dermatology and professor of genetics & development. (1)
Christiano went on to say the new method offers an opportunity to both rejuvenate previously existing hair follicles as well as to induce a number of new hair follicles. Using cells grown from donor hairs in the few hundreds, hair transplantation opportunities could open up for women with female pattern hair loss. This new method also offers hope to those with other forms of hair loss.
One population of mesenchymal cells (cells that develop into the tissues of the lymphatic and circulatory systems as well as connective tissue throughout the body) is known as dermal papilla (DP) cells. These cells are the focus of intense interest because the DP not only regulates hair follicle development and growth, but is also thought to be a reservoir of multi-potent stem cells. (2)
Dermal Papilla are basically small extensions of the dermis that go into the epidermis. In turn, the blood vessels in the dermal papilla nourish the hair follicles in a human. The idea of utilizing the dermal papilla in the cloning of hair follicles has been around for decades. One of the main issues preventing this use has been determining the best way to retain the inductive properties of the cells.
The Columbia University Medical Center research team found a vital link in overcoming this problem through their tests on rodents. The team harvested rodent papillae and then successfully transplanted the rodent papillae back into the skin of the rodents. The dermal papilla tended to form together in clumps in the tissue culture. This led the team the team to believe these clumps of tissue culture create extra cells that release signals that cause the skin to grow new follicles.
The research team then decided to test the same idea on humans by harvesting the dermal papilla from seven human donors. They proceeded to clone the cells in tissue culture while not adding any other factors that would induce growth. The cultures were then transferred back and resulted in new hair growth in five of the seven test subjects. The new hair growth, matching the DNA of the donors, lasted up to six weeks.
While the research team was happy with their test results, there say there is still more testing to be done. They also state that more studies need to be done on the newly induced hairs as well as the role of the host cells that help to form the new hairs. They hope to begin clinical trials sometime in the near future.