Hair loss could one day be treated with lab-grown hair follicles

By modifying the embryonic skin cells of the mice, the researchers created hair follicles that grew up to 3 millimeters in length over a month.


21 October 2022

A hair follicle generated from hair organoids: tiny, simple versions of an organ.

Yokohama National University

Mature hair follicles were grown in a lab for the first time, in a move that could one day treat hair loss.

Historically, artificially growing hair follicles has been very difficult, says Kairbaan Hodivala-Dilke of Queen Mary University of London, who was not involved in the study. “Different types of cells need different types of nutrients, and when they’re outside the body, they need different types of requirements compared to when they’re in the body.”

Among mammals, hair follicles are normally produced in embryos as a result of interactions between skin cells and connective tissue.

To better understand these interactions, Junji Fukuda of Yokohama National University in Japan and colleagues studied hair follicle organoids, tiny, simple versions of an organ.

By controlling the structure of the organoids, the team was able to enhance hair follicle growth.

“We examined various conditions, including growth factors, activators and inhibitors of signaling pathways, and essential components of the culture medium,” says Fukuda.

The team’s main breakthrough was growing mouse embryonic skin cells in a special type of gel, which allowed the cells to be reprogrammed into hair follicles.

“If you think of a hair follicle, it has the hair in the middle and then it has layers of epithelial cells around the follicle and other specialized cells,” says Hodivala-Dilke. The gel allows these cells to grow in a lab in a way that means they can climb on top of each other. [like they do in the body]she says.

The hair follicles grew for up to a month, reaching up to 3 millimeters in length. “This is probably related to the fact that the hair cycle of mice is about a month,” says Fukuda.

The team is now working to recreate the experiment using human cells.

According to Hodivala-Dilke, lab-grown human hair follicles could one day treat hair loss. “You may be able to take hair from someone whose hair is really lush and grow it out in the lab and then use those follicles to do a transplant,” she says. Existing hair transplants involve moving hair from one part of the body to an area that is thinning or balding, which can cause scarring.

“This discovery is not going to cure hair loss, but it lays the groundwork for someone to do it,” says Hodivala-Dilke.

Magazine reference: Progress of scienceDOI: 10.1126/sciadv.add4603

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