Grow hair in a lab? Here’s how scientists solve this problem

Baldness or alopecia is a long-standing problem of mankind, and many startups are working to solve it. In the material – about the technologies that they use, and about the results that they have already achieved.

Grow hair in a lab? Here’s how scientists solve this problem

Hair follicles are given to a person at birth and for life. However, aging, cancer, testosterone, bad genetics, and even the coronavirus can kill the stem cells inside them that form hair. After their disappearance, the hair also disappears.

Hair restoration is just part of a larger study of whether cell reprogramming technology can reverse the symptoms of aging.

A key breakthrough came in the early 2000s when Japanese researchers discovered a simple formula that could turn any type of tissue into stem cells like those found in embryos. So scientists realized that they could potentially produce an unlimited number of cells of any type – from nerves to heart muscles.

In practice, however, it can be difficult to formulate a formula to produce a particular type of cell. It also needs to figure out how to put cells grown in the lab back into the body.

So far, the reprogramming has cured only a few patients.

  • Japanese explorers transplanted retinal cells to a blind person.
  • In November 2021, the American company Vertex Pharmaceuticals reported that it might spared a man from type 1 diabetes by transplantation of programmed insulin-responsive beta cells.

Now some startups are using this technology to grow human hair cells in laboratories and even on animals. They collect ordinary cells from patients, such as skin, and then transform them into those that can form hair.

The dNovo startup can produce hair follicle components by genetically “reprogramming” normal cells such as blood and fat cells. Its founder Ernesto Luján, a biologist at Stanford University, hopes the technology will help address “the root cause of hair loss.”

In biology, cells are now viewed as a “state” rather than a “fixed unit,” Lujan said, and scientists can move them from one state to another.

A hairless mouse that grows human hair after transplanting stem cells that form hair follicles. Photo: dNovo

Another company, Stemson, is transplanting reprogrammed cells into the skin of pigs and mice to test the technology, according to co-founder and CEO Jeff Hamilton. Stemson has already raised $22.5 million from sponsors, including pharmaceutical company AbbVie.

Hamilton and Luhan believe the technology will be in demand. About half of men have a predisposition to baldness – in some it appears already after 20 years. In women, this problem is usually associated with general thinning of the hair, but it is no less a blow to self-esteem.

What are the possibilities for technology in the future?

The industry is filled with false claims about both hair loss treatments and the potential of stem cells. So can a new high-tech method solve this problem, or will it become just another false hope?

There are currently only a few approved hair loss treatments, such as Propecia (finasteride) and Rogaine (minoxidil), but these have limited use. There is also another procedure in which pieces of the patient’s skin where his hair is still growing are cut off, and the hair follicles are transplanted onto the bald patches.

In the future, lab-grown cells could be transplanted onto a human head in a similar way, Luhan said. However, at first it will be a very expensive procedure, which will be performed “on demand”, according to Harvard University professor Karl Koehler.

Hair follicles are incredibly complex organs resulting from the molecular combination of several types of cells. Koehler adds that mice growing human hair are not new, and “there are some barriers to transplanting them into humans.”

Koehler’s lab creates hair rods in a completely different way. They grow organoids, small clusters of cells that self-organize in a petri dish. According to Koehler, he originally studied methods of treating deafness and wanted to grow hair cells in the inner ear. But instead, the organelles turned into skin with hair follicles.

Skin organelle covered with hair follicles. Photo: Jiyun Lee and Carl Koehler, Harvard Medical School

Koehler has resigned himself to this accident – now he creates spherical skin organelles that grow up to two millimeters wide in about 150 days. Koehler adds that they are analogous to the fluffy hairs that cover the fetus.

It is also surprising that the organelles grow in the opposite direction, that is, the hairs are directed inward. Why this happens, scientists have not yet figured out.

A Harvard lab uses reprogrammed cells from a 30-year-old Japanese man. She is also looking at cells from other donors to see if the organoids can grow hair of various colors and textures. According to Koehler, there is a lot of demand for this: “Cosmetics companies are interested. Their eyes light up when they see organoids.”

A source.

Cover photo: LightField Studios / Shutterstock


Source: RB.RU by rb.ru.

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