Sci/Tech Scientists Grow Hair Using Stem Cells

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For the first time, a team of U.S. scientists has developed a technique to convert human stem cells into a type of cell that is capable of initiating hair growth. When these cells were transplanted into mice lacking hair, they successfully induced human hair growth, suggesting that with further development, this method could lead to a cell-based treatment for people suffering hair loss.

“The method is a marked improvement over current methods that rely on transplanting existing hair follicles from one part of the head to another,” lead scientist Alexey Terskikh said in a news release. “Our stem cell method provides an unlimited source of cells from the patient for transplantation and isn’t limited by the availability of existing hair follicles.”

Hair loss, or alopecia, affects a significant number of people worldwide. It’s estimated that around 30 million women in the U.S. suffer from hereditary hair loss, and as many as 50 million men. Alopecia can be caused by a variety of factors from genetics to the environment, such as skin conditions or certain drugs. Not all hair loss is permanent and for some people it’s reversible, for example when caused by chemotherapy or nutritional deficiencies. While it’s possible to slow down the progression of hereditary hair loss with treatment, unfortunately there is no cure for this condition.

Realizing the need for better treatments to help people with permanent hair loss, scientists from Sanford-Burnham began contemplating the potential of using stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, which are derived from very early mammalian embryos, are undifferentiated “blank slate” cells, meaning they have not yet assumed a particular role or function. Scientists are particularly interested in these cells because they have the ability to become any cell in the human body, promising an almost unlimited supply of a particular cell type.

 
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