First human hair grown in a dish offers hope to hair loss sufferers
Human hair has been successfully grown in a dish by researchers at Columbia University, who say this could give more people access to hair restoration surgery.
It is the first time that human hair follicles have been entirely generated in a dish, without the need for implantation into skin.
For years it’s been possible to grow mouse or rat hairs in the lab by culturing cells taken from the base of existing follicles.
“Cells from rats and mice grow beautiful hairs,” said professor Angelo Christiano. “But for reasons we don’t totally understand, human cells are resistant.”
To break the resistance of human hair cells, Christiano has been trying to create conditions that mimic the 3D environment that human hair cells normally inhabit.
The lab first tried creating little spheres of cells inside hanging drops of liquid. When these spheres were implanted in mice, the results were unpredictable. The cells from some people created new hair while others didn’t.
The new study used 3D printers to create a more natural microenvironment for hair follicle growth, by creating plastic moulds with long, thin extensions only half a millimetre wide.
“Previous fabrication techniques have been unable to create such thin projections, so this work was greatly facilitated by innovations in 3D-printing technology,” said Erbil Abaci, PhD, first author of this study.
After human skin was engineered to grow around the mould, hair follicle cells from human volunteers were placed into the deep wells and topped by cells that produce keratin.
The cells were fed a cocktail of growth factors spiked with ingredients, including JAK inhibitors, that the lab has found stimulates hair growth.
After three weeks, human hair follicles appeared and started creating hair.
Though the method needs to be optimised, engineered human hair follicles created in this way could generate an unlimited source of new hair follicles for patients undergoing robotic hair restoration surgery.
Hair restoration surgery requires the transfer of approximately 2,000 hair follicles from the back of the head to the front and top. It is usually reserved for male patients whose hair loss has stabilised and who have enough hair to donate.
“What we’ve shown is that we can basically create a hair farm: a grid of hairs that are patterned correctly and engineered so they can be transplanted back into that same patient’s scalp,” Christiano said.
“That expands the availability of hair restoration to all patients, including the 30 million women in the United States who experience hair thinning and young men whose hairlines are still receding. Hair restoration surgery would no longer be limited by the number of donor hairs.”
The engineered follicles also could be used by the pharmaceutical industry to screen for new hair growth drugs. Currently, high throughput screening for new hair drugs has been hampered by the inability to grow human hair follicles in a lab dish.
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