Could stem cells help treat baldness in men and women?

Stem Cell Therapy for baldness

Baldness affects nearly two-thirds of American men aged 35 and older. By the time they’re 50 that number skyrockets to 85 percent. Baldness also extends to 40 percent of women. Are you one of these people desperate to find a solution?

While many turn to topical treatments like Rogaine®, these solutions only work occasionally and have their limitations. Rogaine®, for example, works better around the crown of the scalp than the frontline. Johnson & Johnson, which owns Rogaine®, even recommends not using the treatment for bald spots beyond the circumference of a soda can.

For those who are looking to try non-topical treatments, stem cell treatment could soon be a viable option.

One hair geneticist and Columbia University professor, Angela Christiano, hopes to begin clinical trials using stem cells in a year or two. She would dissect hair-follicle stem cells from a patient and then grow several million of them in a lab. Patients would then stop into the office for injections.

“It’s been, I would say, kind of the Holy Grail in the field to be able to find something that is less invasive, less surgically intensive and can capitalize on the natural properties of these hair stem cells,” said Christiano.

The process of extracting stem cells would be much less painful and bloody than invasive hair transplants. Unlike transplants, doctors would only need a small dime-size section of the scalp, or 50 to 100 hairs, to complete the operation.

As further proof that using stem cells to treat hair loss works, we need to look no further than a 2014 study published by the Perelman School of Medicine in Nature. Led by Dr. Xiaowei Xu , the team claims it was the first to use stem cells to regrow hair in mice or humans.

To do so, they used three genes to convert human skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The extraordinary characteristic of iPSCs is their ability to transform into other cells, such as epithelial stem cells, which are normally seen in hair follicles. The team forced iPSCs to make large quantities of Epidermal stem cells (EpSCs), which are located in both the epidermis and hair follicle of the skin. When the team injected these EPSCs into mice, the cells regenerated human skin and hair follicle cells and developed hair shafts.

While testing still needs to be completed on humans to verify whether or not the procedure works, the research shows that Christiano and other doctors are not far off from using stem cells on a regular basis to treat baldness.