Stem cell cloning is not a new idea. Since 1944 it has been known that existing hair follicles have the ability to grow new hair when implanted elsewhere.
Recent research shows that bald mice can grow hair after being implanted with “blank slate” stem cells. (These are different from the embryonic stem cells that generate so much controversy).
Stem cell cloning is not real cloning in the true sense of the word. But, it is very similar because hundreds of hair follicles can be produced from just one donor follicle. (Follicular multiplication or follicular cell regeneration are more accurate terms).
Follicle hair transplant therapy is still in a stage of research and testing, and so is not yet available as an alternative to conventional hair transplants.
However, this treatment (which is also known as follicular cell implantation) will involve the following procedure – A scalp biopsy is first taken to obtain a few healthy hair follicles. (This uses a local anesthetic and takes about 30 minutes).
The extracted follicles are then dissected to obtain the papilla, each of which contains between 200 and 400 dermal papilla cells (DPC’s).
These cells are then incubated in cultures to produce hundreds of thousands of new papilla cells. This process takes about 8 weeks.
The DPC’s are then implanted (injected) into a bald area of the scalp and release cytokines (chemical signals) that tell the skin to start producing new hair follicles.
Not as simple as it sounds. A new hair follicle is made from epithelial cells. But, the growth cycle of a follicle is governed by DPC’s. So, both epithelial cells and DPC’s are needed to produce a follicle.
Also, DPC’s don’t only originate from the papilla – many migrate from the dermal sheath into the papilla during the hair growth cycle and then migrate back out again once the cycle is complete.
The added complexity of epithelial cells and dermal sheath involvement in the process of creating new follicles has presented additional problems that must be solved if this type of therapy is ever to work successfully.
Problems with stem cell cloning and follicle hair transplants
Even though stem cell cloning for follicle hair transplants has managed to produce hair regrowth in about 70% of volunteers in one very small trial, there are several areas of difficulty concerning this “therapy of the future.”
1. The culturing technique must preserve the stem cell’s ability to reproduce hair, and ensure that a significant number of DPC’s can be grown within that culture.
2. Any hair produced must be of an acceptable standard to the client (i.e., thick, strong, healthy hair growth).
3. The implantation method must guarantee that thousands of implantations per client will produce acceptable and standardized hair growth for the client.
4. An inconsistent number of follicles may be produced – even if the same quantity of cells are injected into the scalp (i.e., as were injected into another area, or in another patient) hair growth can vary from one area to the next, and from one patient to another.
5. Normal hair growth has an even density (distribution) throughout the scalp. But, transplanted cells can lump together and then cause hair growth to be patchy.
6. Regular hair growth is directional (normally it’s in a clockwise direction around the vertex). But the hair grown from implanted cells could be at any angle. This, of course, would give a very shabby looking result that’s unacceptable to the patient.