A new study finds that stimulating new hair growth in bald areas may now be possible.
NEW HOPE FOR BALDNESS CURE
More than half of all men will eventually develop some degree of baldness as they age. At the present time, there are very few treatment options available to men who are concerned about progressive hair loss. Minoxidil, a drug that was first approved for the treatment of high blood pressure, can increase hair growth when applied to the scalp. Finasteride, a drug that is used to treat benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlargement of the prostate gland), can also be prescribed to increase hair growth. However, both of these drugs are associated with significant side effects, and they must be used indefinitely in order to maintain hair growth. Surgical approaches to hair loss are also available, although this approach tends to be expensive, and is associated with many of the risks associated with any surgical operation. Therefore, the available options for treating baldness are both limited and associated with significant downsides.
An ideal treatment for baldness would reverse the suppression of hair growth brought about by male sex hormones (androgens), but without significant side effects. In the past, researchers have tried to “reprogram” hair follicles to resume hair growth by transplanting hair follicle predecessors into patches of hairless skin, in the hope that the follicles will stimulate new hair growth (“hair neogenesis”). However, this approach has not been successful, to date, because the process of growing skin containing hair follicle predecessors in a laboratory culture appears to render them incapable of stimulating new hair growth. Now, an intriguing new method of growing human dermis containing the predecessors of hair follicles may allow these transplanted hair follicle predecessors to stimulate new hair growth in humans. This exciting new research study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In this study, the researchers extensively studied the expression of genes in cultured human skin containing the dermal papillae that give rise to hair follicles, in an effort to learn why these dermal papillae lose the ability to stimulate hair growth after being grown in laboratory cultures. What they found, in essence, is that growing two dimensional sheets of human dermis leads to the loss of activity in genes that are necessary for these dermal papillae to stimulate hair growth when transplanted onto hairless areas of skin. Based upon this finding, the research scientists then grew these same human dermis papillae on the surface of small three dimensional spheres, instead of growing them in two dimensional sheets. Then, the researchers transplanted these cultured human dermal cells onto patches of hairless human skin that had been previously grafted onto the backs of laboratory mice. To their surprise, 5 out of the 7 mice began to grow human hair within the grafted patches of human skin!
While this is only a very preliminary research study, it nonetheless suggests that one of the biggest obstacles to stimulating new hair growth using a patient’s own dermal papillae may have finally been overcome. The next step, of course, is to perform a similar experiment in humans, to see if this new 3D culture technique will also work in humans. Given the hundreds of millions of men, and women, around the world with thinning hair, it should not be very difficult to find volunteers for such a study!
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According to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty between September 2001 and December 2011 is more than 12 percent. A new website, Veterans in Healthcare, seeks to connect veterans with potential employers. If you are a veteran who works in the healthcare field, or if you are an employer who is looking for physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, corpsmen/medics, or other healthcare professionals, then please take a look at Veterans in Healthcare. As a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, I would also like to personally urge you to hire a veteran whenever possible.
Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity
Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author
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