The pleas of millions of balding men could soon be answered.
Scientists have revealed for the first time that hair can be grown by coaxing stem cells.
A comb-over, a toupee, or a transplant, is what the 7.4 million balding Britons have to choose from if they are unhappy about the condition of their hair.
But they may have the chance to re-grow their lost hair thanks to advances in stem cell science; all inside of the next decade.
For the condition alopecia where hair falls out in patches, new treatments could result from the latest research as well.
New hair follicles were grown in adult mammals during the course of the study. The results have been published in the journal Nature.
Previously held viewpoints maintained that baldness resulted from the gradual death of hair follicles that were only formed before birth. But the research shows that the tiny structures can be developed by using stem cells later in life. This should open the door for new hair loss treatments.
While studying the wound healing process in mice, researchers made the discovery at the University of Pennsylvania.
Allowing new hair to develop, new hair follicles from beneath the new skin would form as the wound healed.
Capable of turning into different cells and tissues, stem cells were responsible for the formation of the follicles as close examination proved.
Usually only active in the womb, the use of a protein called wnt was imperative to the process. More hair grows as the level of the protein is increased. No hair grows in the absence of wnt.
Wound healing was also enhanced with the addition of wnt. Allowing new and completely functional follicles to form, it is thought that when the skin heals itself, it returns to a condition that is comparable to what is found in the developing fetus.
A similar treatment for humans could be developed. Researchers are confident of this even though all the work has involved only mice thus far.
For a wnt-based drug to be administered, the skin in the area would likely need to be grazed. This is because wounding the area seems to be crucial to the method.
New hair would more than likely need to be dyed to match the color of existing hair because all the hair that has been grown so far has been white. But any cure for baldness should not be expected for at least a decade since a two year wait stands in the way just to begin the first human trials.
Experts have described the breakthrough as “remarkable”.
“Up to now we thought that the number of hair follicles we have is set before we were born and can only go downhill from there,” said Dr. Denis Headon, a developmental biologist from Manchester University.
“This work shows that new hair follicles are made in adult skin, at least when it is healing a wound. The implication is that it might be simpler than we thought to make new hair follicles as a treatment for hair loss.”
A series of injections may be a stand in option for those unwilling to wait for the treatment to come to market. British scientists believe other remedies such as this would appear on the market more quickly.