Millions of men and women who suffer from premature baldness or hair loss could soon be able to regain their original lustrous locks — by cloning their remaining hair in the laboratory, research suggests.
The new technique, known as “follicular cell implantation," has already shown positive results in continuing clinical trials on human beings. The work, being carried out by a British team, is being hailed as a major advance in hair restoration and is backed by a $3.7 million government grant.
The cell therapy has the potential to provide a limitless supply of an individual’s hair to replace that lost because of burns, cancer treatment or simply the onset of age, and could be available to patients within five years.
The latest results of the Phase II trial, presented at a conference of leading hair replacement surgeons in Rome, suggest that the technique can increase hair count in at least two-thirds of patients after six months, and four out of five if the scalp is stimulated beforehand through gentle abrasions that encourage hair growth.
The new technique involves extracting dermal papilla cells, the basic cells responsible for hair growth, from a sample of only about 100 hairs from the back of the scalp — the area where hair usually continues to grow despite losses in other areas. These cells are then multiplied many times over in a special patented culture before being injected back into the scalp in their millions, stimulating the formation of new hair follicles or rejuvenating those that have stopped producing hair on the top of the head.
The procedure is being developed by Intercytex, a British company based in Manchester, which is among many competing to find a cure for hair loss. Researchers from the U.S., Italy and Japan are also exploring the possibility of cloning hair, including techniques designed to extract stem cells from the base of the hair follicles.