Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys have grown fully functional hair follicles from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that grow natural looking hair through the skin.
Trauma, burns, and a range of diseases and genetic factors can lead to hair loss and baldness. Estimates suggest around 80 million men, women and children in the United States suffer from hair loss. Hair may not be critical from a health perspective, but it can have a major negative effect on mental health. Hair loss can cause loss of self-esteem, emotional distress, anxiety, and depression all of which can greatly reduce quality of life.
The researchers built on previous work and overcome many technical hurdles that have prevented their protocol from having a real world use. Now their techniques have been refined and they have demonstrated they have a reliable, robust, and highly controlled method of growing hair and can deliver dermal papilla cells derived from an unlimited supply of human iPSCs
Dermal papilla cells reside in the hair follicle and are critical for hair growth. They determine the growth cycle, the length, and the thickness of the hair. Terskikh and his team had previously developed a technique that allowed them to grow subcutaneous hair in mouse skin. Their technique has been further refined and the researchers now have hair growing through the skin. A mix of mouse epithelial cells and human dermal papilla cells are supported on a 3D biodegradable scaffold made of the same material as dissolvable stitches. In addition to controlling the direction of hair growth, the scaffold helps the stem cells to integrate into the skin.
“This is a critical breakthrough in the development of cell-based hair-loss therapies and the regenerative medicine field,” said Alexey Terskikh, Ph.D., associate professor in Sanford Burnham Prebys’ Development, Aging and Regeneration Program.
Research is already underway to derive the epithelial cells from human iPSCs which can be combined with human dermal papilla cells and used in allogenic transplants in humans.
The technology has been licensed to Stemson Therapeutics, a newly formed company. Alexey Terskikh is the co-founder and chief scientific officer.