In what is good news for the millions of Americans with partial or complete hair loss, scientists at the University of Southern California have developed a potential new stem cell cure for baldness.
Is Bald Really Beautiful?
Perhaps if you’re a baby or Vin Diesel. For the ordinary American, however, baldness can be a source of embarrassment and lack of self-esteem. Human beings attach great importance to hair in the overall appearance of a person. In men, hair is seen as a sign of virility. In women, healthy, glossy hair is a coveted sign of beauty. It is no surprise, therefore, that the loss of hair is a cause for great anxiety.
It is natural to lose up to 100 strands of hair every day of the 100,000 to 150,000 that are present on the human scalp. Alopecia (hair loss) is often genetic, but can be the result of stress, medications, and hormonal imbalance. Approximately 50 percent of men and 25 percent of women above the age of 50 have age-related baldness. Although a veritable laundry list of treatments is available with varying success, there is no known cure for baldness.
Baldness and the Magic of Stem Cells
New research is providing hope that growing human hair and curing baldness may soon be possible. Scientists working with stem cells have succeeded in inducing vigorous hair growth in laboratory mice. At the Keck School of Medicine at USC, Professor of Pathology Dr. Cheng-Ming Chuong led an investigation into whether hair follicles can grow from skin cells produced in the laboratory. The results of the study, which was funded by the NIH, were recently published by the Los Angeles based Stem Cell Laboratory of USC.
Growing Hair from Stem Cells
The team at USC has discovered the sequence of key molecular events that are necessary to generate hair follicles in the skin. This allowed them to foster hair growth in adult mice that had been shaved. It is unclear how soon human trials will begin, but the results are promising that a treatment for alopecia is on the anvil.
As we age, human cells lose the ability to regenerate, resulting in poor hair growth. In the future, if stem cells can be used to grow skin with hair follicles, it will be possible to transplant these cells into hairless areas to cure baldness.
Stem Cells are Progenitor Cells
Co-author of the USC study, Mr. Mingxing Lei, explains that stem cells are undifferentiated cells with the ability to transform into a number of specialized cells. In the last five decades since they were first discovered, stem cells have been used to regenerate various types of human tissues. The scientists at USC transplanted progenitor cells into shaved mice and observed the induction of hair growth with time-lapse videos. They found that the stem cells assembled into organoids. They also observed how the cells coalesced to form layers of skin with hair follicles. This skin was then transplanted back into the host mouse with vigorous hair growth from the follicles. Concurrent studies into baldness are also underway at Yale University School of Medicine and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Researchers at these institutions expressed excitement at the results from USC.