The advances in understanding the complex mechanisms behind hair loss as well as improvements in stem cell therapy may completely change the way we approach the treatment of hair loss.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the potential to become different cell types as well as regenerate tissues and organs. This unique characteristic makes them perfect tools in the treatment of degenerative diseases.
Hair follicle stem cells are among the most potent forms of stem cells in the human body
There are two types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. While embryonic stem cells can differentiate into any type of cells, the adult stem cells have some limitations.
The regeneration period of stem cells also depends on the type of organ stem cell. For example, in hair follicles and bone marrow, the stem cells divide frequently to replenish the damaged cells continuously throughout life. (Chen and Chong, 2012)
Hair Stem Cells
stem cells are activated by molecules released from intra-dermal fat tissue, hormones, neural activity, immune function and even the aging process
The hair follicle is a mini organ that supports various biological functions of the human body such as protecting from the cold and from injury as well as immunologic and sensory functions. Hair follicle stem cells are among the most potent forms of stem cells in the human body. Their diverse set of functions and ease of reproduction have made them one of the most popular choices when it comes to stem cell interventions such as the engineering of tissue for organ replacement or regenerative medicine. Their vast qualities and flexibility also explains why so much research and scientific literature has been devoted to studying their full potential.
Hair follicle stem cells are kicked into action by a number of signals that come from their micro-environment but also from far larger bodily functions. Stem cells that are located in hair follicles interact with signals from the dermal papilla. While outside the follicle, stem cells are activated by molecules released from intra-dermal fat tissue, hormones, neural activity, immune function and even the aging process. Even external factors like the changing of seasons can interact with the activity of hair follicle stem cells. Due to their regrnerative properties and adaptiveness to various environments hair cells were chosen to become the model for stem cell biology (Chen and Chong, 2012).
Shiseido and Replicel have combined forces in order to develop one of the most advanced treatments for hair loss
The history of stem cell therapy for hair growth started with a company called Intercytex. Researchers tried to clone new hair follicles that were grown from the stem cells harvested from the back of the head. Their Phase 2 trials showed promising results in two thirds of their patients as they grew new hair after the stem cell treatment. Unfortunately, the company went out of business after the Phase 3 trials didn’t go as expected.
In the last 3 years, more and more companies have announced their clinical trials for stem cell hair loss treatments.
The major research teams developing treatments using stem cells are Replicel-Shiseido and Riken. The other new stem cell treatment that is already available is the HASCI method developed by Dr. Gho.
Shiseido and Replicel
Shiseido and Replicel have combined forces in order to develop one of the most advanced treatments for hair loss. They propose the use of dermal sheath cup cells that have been isolated from the hair follicle. Replicel’s hair growth treatment, known as RCH-01 works by re-injecting a person’s own hair follicle cells into parts of the scalp. The cells are removed from healthy hair follicles and cultured into a growth medium that replicates them. After the culturing process is done the cells are injected into the scalp.
Shiseido is a Japanese company that obtained the rights to develop RCH-01. Moreover, the company is working on a new regenerative technique that uses iPS cells. Currently, Shiseido is undergoing clinical trials for Replicel’s RCH-01 in Japan at Tokyo Medical University Hospital and Toho University Ohasi Medical Center under the guidance of Dr. Tsuboi and Niiyama and has an estimated market release in 2018. The product will be manufactured by the Shiseido facility in Kobe.
Tsujji-Riken Organ Technologies
Tsuji-Riken Organ Technologies research led by Dr. Takashi Tsuji is also creating and researching a cure for hair loss that involves stem cells. The researchers are known for their successes in regenerating other body parts such as teeth, glands, and hair follicles by using a process called the Primordium method.
The researchers remove a small patch of skin and hair follicles form the patient’s scalp and isolate and extract the follicles to be cultivated. After they have been cultivated and multiplied the cells are processed and turned into follicles using the Primordium method and injected into the scalp.
The method requires bioengineering that would allow them to accurately transport and inject the cells into the scalp so the company is working with Kyocera in order to produce the equipment needed for this procedure.
The HASCI method
The HASCI method is already available.
The Hair Science Institute researches advanced hair transplantation and multiplication methods in its various clinics in Amsterdam, London, Maastricht, Jakarta and Cap d’Antibes. The method was developed by the research team lead by Coen Gho and they are focusing on continually improving its efficiency.
The method does not remove the entire hair follicle, but only a portion of it along with the stem cells it contains. Studies performed by Dr. Gho hve shown that this is enough to produce new hair in both areas (donor and receptor).(Gho and Norman, 2015). This means that the partial follicle left in the donor area will produce growth whereas in traditional hair transplantation methods the donor area couldn’t be used again. The stem cells are then placed in a medium that will stimulate further growth. (Gho and Neuman, 2014)
The method also works for patients who experienced hair loss after burning accidents (Gho and Neuman, 2011) and allows for a natural look and quick recovery (5-7 days). The full result can be seen after 9 months, when the hair growth cycle is completed.
Due to the diverse techniques that are being developed, there isn’t a single approach to stem cell therapy, as each researcher is in the process of developing not only their own treatment approach but also their own tools. Stem cell therapy is superior to other types of hair loss therapies due to its minimally invasive approach as well as little to no side effects. Due to being a non-surgical approach with minimal to no scarring, stem cell treatment may becomne the favoured approach to hair restoration. Many of the traditional forms of hair loss therapies such as DHT blockers not only have side effects but also have to be used daily and indefinitely. Stem Cell Therapy also improves the quality and texture of hair in long term and effects are noticed much faster than with other types of hair loss treatments.
Plant Stem Cells
Plants also have stem cells that behave very much like hair fibre stem cells, with impulses from their surrounding microenvironment dictating their activity and function. Unlike human stem cells though, plant stem cells can be totipotent, which means they have the power to regenerate an entire plant not just an element or part of a plant.
Stem cells from plants can also be used to improve human hair, particularly due to the properties that keep fruit fresh for long periods of time. In fact, the most important, research based approach to improving the condition of hair through plant derived stem cells has been achieved with the help of the Uttwiler Spätlauber apple tree. Malus Domestica is a cosmetic ingredient that is derived from stem cells harvested from the Swiss apple tree.
The stem cells extracted from this hearty tree that have been combined with human derived stem cells have resulted in a far more resistant stem cell product, even when subjected to extremely harsh conditions and UV light (Schmidt et al). The apple derived extract didn’t just offer protection from UV light and growth maintenance to human stem cells but also delayed cell deterioration and postponed the hair follicle’s death.
The research done on plant stem cells is still in its infancy; however, it shows promise as an important addition to classic stem cell treatment for hair loss and provides important benefits that will make any future products more efficient.
Chen, C.-C., & Chuong, C. M. (2012). Multi-layered environmental regulation on the homeostasis of stem cells: The saga of hair growth and alopecia. Journal of Dermatological Science, 66(1), 3–11. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdermsci.2012.02.007
- Mistriotis, P., & Andreadis, S. T. (2013). Hair Follicle: A Novel Source of Multipotent Stem Cells for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.Tissue Engineering. Part B, Reviews, 19(4), 265–278. http://doi.org/10.1089/ten.teb.2012.0422
- Gho C.G, Neumann H.A.M, Advances in Hair Transplantation: Longitudinal Partial Follicular Unit Transplantation, Ioannides D, Tosti A (eds): Alopecias – Practical Evaluation and Management. Curr Probl Dermatol. Basel, Karger, 2015, vol 47, pp 150-157 (DOI:10.1159/000369416)
- Gho, C. G., & Neumann, H. A. M. (2013). The Influence of Preservation Solution on the Viability of Grafts in Hair Transplantation Surgery. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open, 1(9), e90. http://doi.org/10.1097/GOX.0000000000000032
- Gho, C. G., & Neumann, H. A. M. (2011) Improved hair restoration method for burns, Burns , Volume 37 , Issue 3 , 427 – 433