The use of stem cells for the treatment of baldness has attracted considerable attention in recent years. While there are surgical treatments for baldness that involve grafting and drugs that have been shown to stimulate hair growth, scientists are looking at a less invasive treatment that does not involve continued application of drugs to the scalp. That has led them to attempt reversing hair loss using stem cell treatments.
Male pattern baldness and premature hair loss may not be life threatening conditions, although millions of dollars are being channeled into research into treating the conditions. Estimates suggest up to 4 million dollars are spent each year by Americans looking to reverse the process and regain lost hair. An estimated 40% of men in the United States experience hair loss by the age of 35, that rises to 65% by the age of 60 and 70% by the age of 70. 80% of women have noticeable hair loss by the age of 60.
Trials using stem cells for treating baldness have shown promise. Researchers in Egypt and Japan have both reported positive changes in the density of hair following treatment with stem cells.
RIKEN, the largest research organization in Japan, teamed up with Organ Technologies and Kyocera to work on regenerative medicine to treat baldness. Based on the early results of the trials, the team hopes to have a product ready for commercialization by 2020. The researchers have already demonstrated that the use of stem cells for treating baldness has been effective in studies on mice. Now trials have started on human subjects.
The RIKEN researchers remove a patch of skin from a patient’s scalp and isolate and extract the stem cells that are active in the hair follicles. The stem cells are cultured and numbers are increased and matured into hair follicles using ‘the primordium’ method. The hair follicles are then either injected back into patients’ scalps or are grafted on. While the grafting of hair is nothing new, this method is different as only a very small skin sample is taken from the patient.
Now a doctor in the United States is offering autologous stem cell therapy for hair loss. Dr. Kenneth Williams of the Irvine Institute of Medicine and Cosmetic Surgery-Orange County is running a clinical trial involving the use of fat-derived autologous stem cells and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) to reverse the balding process.
The aim of the study is to determine whether the injection of stem cells into the scalp can help to regenerate or stimulate dormant hair follicles. The process is not a quick fix. It can take between 9 and 12 months after the stem cells are introduced into the scalp for the effectiveness of the treatment to be known.
The procedure involves extracting autologous stem cells from fat taken from the abdomen of patients, which are mixed with plasma that has been spun using a centrifuge to concentrate platelets. 300 injections of the PRP/stem cell mixture are administered to the scalp, with the process repeated after three months.
The study does not have the backing of a pharmaceutical firm although the trial has been supported by the National Institute of Health (NIH). Funding for the study is currently being provided by the patients themselves. Patients are paying up to $5,800 to have the treatment performed. Early results show that there has been a noticeable improvement in hair density following treatment.