People suffering from hair loss may have a new reason for hope: The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) has engineered a new hair follicle model that it says could help scientists discover new drugs for hair regeneration.

By applying a microfiber fabrication technology for engineering different cell types across the three dimensions, the IBN research team says it was able to fabricate a 3D hair follicle model that mimics the size and cell arrangement of a real hair follicle by combining two types of hair cells—dermal papilla cells and keratinocytes—within a translucent fibrous matrix. The IBN researchers found that the cells in their hair follicle-like structures switched on genes that are usually active during the hair growth stage, and, when transplanted into mice, grew further into natural-looking hair structures.

“Measuring the diameter of a strand of hair, our hair follicle-like structure exhibits similar cell behavior as real hair follicles,” Andrew Wan, Ph.D., IBN’s team leader and principal research scientist, said in a statement. “In our model, the hair cells are implanted into very fine and transparent fibers, which can be easily examined under the microscope unlike conventional models, making them ideal for drug testing applications.”

IBN speculates that, if commercialized, this technology could be used by pharmaceutical companies in the drug discovery stage to screen potential promoters or inhibitors of hair formation.

“We hope that our invention would lead to novel ways to treat hair loss, which affects millions of people worldwide,” commented IBN executive director Jackie Y. Ying. Ph.D.

“Follicular dermal papilla structures by organization of epithelial and mesenchymal cells in interfacial polyelectrolyte complex fibers” is slated to appear in the September 2013 issue of Biomaterals.

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