Towards a better hair-growing treatment for baldness

hair loss

Researchers have created a new hair loss treatment in the lab that someday could help hair grow back even better than before. Credit: Goodluz/iStock/Thinkstock

Although hair loss is not a life-threatening condition, it can be emotionally challenging for those who have it. Current treatments can restore hair growth in mild cases, but are less successful on larger bald areas. Now, researchers report in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces that they have developed a new technique to culture hair-producing cells in the lab that someday could help hair grow back even better than before.

From the earliest known times, people have grappled with hair loss. The ancient Egyptians, for example, would slather animal fats on their scalps to encourage regrowth.

Current therapeutic options include either medication or autologous hair transplantation (redistribution of hair by grafting). However, both treatments are only effective for mild alopecia (hair loss) and doesn’t help in forming new hair follicles in the bald scalp.

With the recent advances achieved in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, rearranging interfollicular cells and thus bioengineering the hair follicle becomes a promising alternative. Hair follicles (HFs) are three-dimensional (3D) structures that contains two major parts: epithelium and mesenchyme.

The epithelium mainly consists of epidermal cells and mesenchyme has dermal components. The dermal papilla (DP) is a highly specialized mesenchymal cell population located at the base of hair follice, and plays an important role in normal hair follicle growth.

One approach modern researchers have taken is to grow dermal papilla (DP) cells in the lab. Earlier studies have proved that cultured DP cells retain the ability to induce growth of hair follicles  in nonhair-bearing skin.

Culturing cells on the bottom surface of a plate works for many medical applications, but hair cells lose their ability to make hair when cultured in this 2-D fashion. To better mimic the natural environment cells experience inside the body, researchers have developed 3-D cell culturing techniques, but these have limitations. So, Zhiqi Hu, Malcolm Xing and colleagues decided to make improvements and test the system with DP cells.

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The researchers exploited surface tension to create a novel hanging-drop technique using microplates with tiny wells in them. The method has the ability to control DP tissue size and stability, and it is suitable for large-scale production, unlike other 3-D procedures.

The team used the technique to successfully culture DP cells while maintaining their function. They then implanted these DP “spheroids” into nude mice, the lab equivalent of bald humans. These mice were able to grow hair even better than control mice. The researchers say that these results show potential to produce DP cells that can be used in human hair regrowth treatments.

Source: American Chemical Society

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