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What This Means For Hair Loss: Hair Follicles Can Now Be Grown In Labs

  • Scientists can now produce new hair follicles — those tube-shaped pores that hug the strand and root of a hair — in vitro in a lab.
  • It’s a breakthrough that scientists believe will pave the way for better hair loss therapies in the future.
  • It will also help experts understand how hair follicles form in general.

According to the Hair Society of America, over 35 million men and 21 million women in the United States suffer from hair loss.

While hair loss is a normal part of life — the American Academy of Dermatology Association reports that it’s normal to lose between 50 and 100 hairs every day — noticing thinning hair and bald spots on your head can be unpleasant and depressing.

There are tried and true methods that can be prescribed by dermatologists or accessible over the counter to alleviate these difficulties and restore thicker, fuller hair.

Now, Japanese research offers light on potential new methods for producing hair, which could have ramifications for treating hair loss, animal testing, and medication screenings in the future.

In this latest study, researchers created new hair follicles — those tube-shaped pores that surround the hair strand and root — in vitro in a lab. It’s a breakthrough that scientists hope will pave the door for better hair loss therapies as well as a better knowledge of how hair follicles form in general.

A Breakthrough In Hair Loss Treatment

Aur Sunao - What This Means For Hair Loss: Hair Follicles Can Now Be Grown In Labs

The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, involved a team of Yokohama National University researchers who created hair follicles in cultures.

The research team explains in a press release that this work focused on the practice of executing “organoid” cultures — miniature “basic replicas of an organ” — cultures that have increasingly attracted attention in research undertaken to better understand organ and tissue development.

The researchers explain that while an embryo develops, a series of messages is sent back and forth between the epidermal layer of the skin and the mesenchyme, or connective tissue of the skin.

These signals stimulate the formation of hair follicles, a process known as morphogenesis in which an organism’s cells join together to form the organs and tissues of the body. They stress how difficult it has been in the past for researchers to fully grasp what goes on behind hair follicle formation, and how this morphogenesis process for hair follicles has not been replicated in a culture dish until now.

According to the article, the researchers selected rodent embryonic cells for this investigation because of their shorter period of hair development, stronger hair-inducing activity, and availability compared to cells of human origin.

We were amazed that hair follicle tissues capable of producing hairs could be obtained through culture, research author Junji Fukuda, PhD, of Yokohama National University’s college of engineering, told Healthline. What was even more remarkable was that we were able to raise the probability of hair development in this study from less than 1% — one out of 300 cell aggregates — at the start of the research to over 100% — or 300 out of 300 cell aggregates.

They were able to develop these small hair follicles by manipulating the structure created by those back-and-forth interactions between embryonic cells using a low concentration of extracellular matrices, which is your body’s network that provides structure for your tissue and cells. According to the statement, the researchers developed hair shafts and hair follicles with about 100% efficiency, resulting in completely mature hair follicles with lengthy hair shafts.

After 23 days of culture, the follicles were fully mature, measuring around 3 mm in length.

The researchers were subsequently able to analyze morphogenesis as well as hair colour in vitro, gaining a deeper understanding of the signal-to-signal mechanism that promotes follicle growth.

Our technology allows for continuous in vitro monitoring of the process of new hair follicle development. As a result, it can help us better understand how hairs develop and what occurs when specific external stimuli are applied during the process, Fukuda added. We can also constantly see how melanosomes [organelles that process and store melanin pigments] are passed on to the hairs and pigmented, which can be utilized to understand the origins of gray hairs and design medications to treat them.

How Hair Loss Therapies Are Chosen

Aur Sunao - What This Means For Hair Loss: Hair Follicles Can Now Be Grown In Labs

While this new study paints an enticing picture of what can be achievable if you are already experiencing hair loss, what options are now available?

Dr. Peter Young is the medical director of Keeps, a company that specializes in treating men’s hair loss with FDA-approved, at-home therapies.

Young, who is unconnected with the new Japanese study, stated that it all depends on the type of hair loss you are suffering. You may be able to reverse this hair loss and grow new hairs, or at the very least, slow down the process. Young stated that in order to choose the best treatment, you must first determine the source of a given individual’s hair loss.

Your provider will conduct a detailed history in order to evaluate the cause and best treatment for your hair loss. We’re focused on the numerous medical disorders that might cause hair loss, such as thyroid illness, anemia, and autoimmune diseases like lupus, Young said. The clinician will also ask about any physical or emotional pressures that may have contributed to your hair loss, as well as a list of your current medications.

Your provider will then examine your scalp visually. This is because different types of hair loss seem differently to the naked eye. If the underlying cause remains unknown after this type of evaluation, your provider may prescribe blood work and perhaps a biopsy of your scalp to be examined under a microscope, he added.

If your hair loss is caused by an underlying ailment, such as thyroid disease or anemia, you will need to treat that disease in order to reverse the hair loss. Various drugs, such as certain blood pressure medications, can cause hair loss. If you are taking one of these medications and are having hair loss, your doctor may switch you to a different medication, Young explained.

Alopecia areata, which is characterized by patchy hair loss of unknown etiology, the hair may spontaneously recover without therapy over a period of months or even a year.

There Are Currently Accessible Therapies For Hair Loss

Aur Sunao - What This Means For Hair Loss: Hair Follicles Can Now Be Grown In Labs

Medication, laser therapy, and hair restoration surgery are all accepted therapies, according to Young. Male pattern baldness is routinely treated with drugs such as minoxidil (marketed under the brand name Rogaine) and finasteride (marketed under the brand name Propecia).

He went on to say that minoxidil is an over-the-counter medicine that comes in liquid or foam form and is available in two strengths.

It takes at least three to four months for topical minoxidil to show benefits, and one to two years for best results. To keep the benefits, you must continue to take the medication indefinitely. Scalp irritation, itching, or redness are the most prevalent negative effects of topical minoxidil, he added. This occurs less frequently with foam formulations than with solutions. Some patients may experience unwelcome facial hair growth.

Finasteride, like minoxidil, is a prescription medication for males who have male pattern baldness. Many people who use this medicine will notice new hair growth or a slowing of existing hair loss. It may also take several months for you and your provider to determine whether it is effective for you. You may need to continue taking it to reap the benefits.

Erectile dysfunction and decreased sex drive are rare adverse effects of finasteride. Women who are or may be pregnant should avoid touching crushed or broken medications since it might cause birth problems, he warned.

When it comes to hair restoration or hair transplant surgery, Young explained that a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon will move existing hair from a hairy portion of the scalp and transplant it to a thinning part of the scalp. He went on to say that more than one surgery session may be required to get the necessary amount of improvement, and the treatment might be highly pricey.

The FDA approved low-level laser therapy several years ago, and it may be useful in treating hereditary hair loss in both men and women, Young added.

The Consequences For Hair Growth And Beyond

This new study has far-reaching consequences for our ongoing understanding of the processes that lead to hair formation.

Young told Healthline that this study contributed to our current understanding of hair follicle growth” and that it “may have useful applications in the future in addressing hair loss.

Aur Sunao - What This Means For Hair Loss: Hair Follicles Can Now Be Grown In Labs

When asked what his research means in the long run, Fukuda explained that because the method they created can screen drug candidates based on the condition of hair development, it should eventually provide more accurate results than the standard approach employing cells on a culture dish.

Our method grows hair follicles with hair shafts before transplanting them for hair regenerative medicine. This could make hair regeneration much more effective than the method that grows hair follicles after transplanting cells or groups of cells into the skin. He said that our method is like hair transplantation that is already done.

Beyond hair growth, this finding has ramifications in other fields of regenerative medicine.

Given that the hair follicle is a mini organ that can be regenerated in vitro, Fukuda believes his team’s findings provide an important perspective on the regulation of the initial arrangement of cells in an aggregate in harnessing their regenerative potential during the early stages of embryonic development.

While this study explicitly focused on rodent cells, the next step would be to simulate this process using human cells.

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