Scientists from the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute report that they used human pluripotent stem cells to generate new hair. The study represents the first step toward the development of a cell-based treatment for people with hair loss, according to the research team, which adds that in the U.S. alone, more than 40 million men and 21 million women are affected by hair loss. The Sanford-Burnham work (“Derivation of Hair-Inducing Cell from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells”) was published online in PLOS One.

“We have developed a method using human pluripotent stem cells to create new cells capable of initiating human hair growth. The method is a marked improvement over current methods that rely on transplanting existing hair follicles from one part of the head to another,” said Alexey Terskikh, Ph.D., associate professor in the development, aging, and regeneration program at Sanford-Burnham. “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.”

The research team developed a protocol that coaxed human pluripotent stem cells to become dermal papilla (DP) cells, which regulate hair-follicle formation and growth cycle.

“Unfortunately human DP cells are not suitable for this purpose because they cannot be obtained in necessary amounts and rapidly lose their ability to induce hair follicle formation when cultured,” write the investigators. “In this context derivation of functional hESC-DP cells capable of inducing a robust hair growth for the first time shown here can become an important finding for the biomedical science.”

“In adults, dermal papilla cells cannot be readily amplified outside of the body and they quickly lose their hair-inducing properties,” said Dr. Terskikh. “We developed a protocol to drive human pluripotent stem cells to differentiate into dermal papilla cells and confirmed their ability to induce hair growth when transplanted into mice.”

He added that the team’s next step is to transplant human dermal papilla cells derived from human pluripotent stem cells back into human subjects, noting that “we are currently seeking partnerships to implement this final step.”

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