You can’t really tell if someone has had a hair transplant* because modern hair transplants (FUE or strip harvesting) now excel in creating completely natural looking results**. However, patients must have an adequate quality and quantity of donor hair follicles to achieve a natural look – in fact, hair transplant surgeons often turn down otherwise great candidates for a hair transplant*** because they have an insufficient number of donor hair follicles.
In short, if the gods or fate haven’t left you with enough of the good stuff, you’re out of luck – or so everyone thought.
Researchers have figured out how to bioengineer a hair follicle built from your DNA1.
Regenerative Medical Science To the Rescue
Over the past decade, researchers have made significant advances in understanding which parts of those organs contain a copy of the original stem cell from which the organ arose. This means that stem cells have held out the greatest hope of repairing or replacing damaged vital organs.
Moreover, researchers have made significant advances in understanding how the genesis of these organs occurs, i.e., we’re beginning to understand an embryonic process called organogenesis that involves a complex interaction of stem cells and biological processes that gives rise to a particular organ in the body, an ‘Adam’ or ‘Eve’ organ, if you will.
Finally, researchers have made advancements in understanding how different types of stem cells interact to control the growth cycle of an organ after its birth.
In short, it’s as if we can now peek over the shoulder of God or nature to see exactly how they created all these living things.
Hair organ regeneration via bioengineered hair follicular unit transplantation
While researchers understand how stem cells both create and regulate hair follicles, they haven’t been able to re-create, inside a living organism, a realistically functional hair follicle using stem cell technology – until now.
This spring, researchers at Tokyo University developed a technique to bioengineer hair follicles from a hair follicle’s stem cells.
Because your stem cells encode what makes your hair unique, this means science can now bioengineer your unique hair.
Second, surgical hair restoration techniques have advanced to the point where they can transplant individual follicular units (that contain 1-5 hairs) from one of the scalp into another part and those follicular units will take root, so to speak, and start growing hair just like the original damaged hair follicles.
But Will It Work?
But the question remains – can transplanted bioengineered hair follicles take root just like “normal” donor hair follicles?
They first say we know which types of hair follicle stem cells regulate normal hair growth cycle2:
Second, they say the stem cells in the dermal papilla control the physical features of different types of hair. This means we understand how stem cells determine not only what’s make your hair unique but what differentiates your hair across your scalp3:
Now it Gets Good – They Now Talk About Hair Transplants:
For androgenetic alopecia, autologous hair follicle unit transplantation (FUT) has clinically achieved the restoration of proper hair appearance by controlling hair type and density and hair stream via the representation of natural hair orientation through surgical implantation of hair follicles.1
The breakthrough – they say that these bioengineered hair follicles have been successfully transplanted using a standard modern hair transplant technique called FUT1
This means that these bioengineered hair follicles seemed to know how to grow hair of the correct type and orientation as a function of the transplanted location!
In short, forget Neograft – hair transplant doctors will soon need to buy machines that bioengineer hair follicles created with their client’s own DNA.
Hold Your Horses. We’re Not There – Yet.
Currently, this is only this lab in the world that can bioengineer these particular hair follicles.
Second, to bioengineer the hair follicles, they needed to incubate its components in a mouse kidney for 14 days to grow hair on a mouse. Also they bioengineered mouse, not human, hair follicles. While little difference exists between these two types of follicles (assuming they bioengineered the mouse to produce human hair follicles), presumably, for people, they’d have to do the same thing, and this makes the procedure impractical.
Third, the paper doesn’t mention whether they could to get the hair follicles to successfully connect the hair to oil glands. If that didn’t happen, that’s a further problem they need to solve.
Finally, before doctors can use these bioengineered hair follicles in a hair transplant, reserchers need to show that they function exactly like natural donor hair follicles. Moreover, they need to self organize into natural functional follicular units because current hair restoration technologies work with follicular units, not individual hair follicles. These bioengineered hair follicles do not yet have these properties.
Nevertheless, Dr. Tsuli confidently states that we could start seeing clinical research within three to five years, and an actual practical treatment within a decade. If that happens, history will mark 2012 as a major milestone in the advancement of treating hair loss.
© 2012, Anapelli Hair Clinic
1. Asakawa K, Toyoshima KE, Ishibashi N, Tobe H, Iwadate A, Kanayama T, Hasegawa T, Nakao K, Toki H, Noguchi S, Ogawa M, Sato A, & Tsuji T (2012). Hair organ regeneration via the bioengineered hair follicular unit transplantation. Scientific reports, 2 PMID: 22645640
2. Greco, V. et al. A two-step mechanism for stem cell activation during hair regeneration. Cell Stem Cell. 4, 155–69 (2009)
3. Contact between dermal papilla cells and dermal sheath cells enhances the ability of DPCs to induce hair growth. J. Invest. Dermatol. 130, 2707–18 (2010)
- Research group headed by Professor Takashi Tsuji demonstrates in regenerating “functional hair regeneration from adult stem cells.” Tokyo University of Science Press Release, 17 April, 2012
- Takashi Tsuli’s Tokyo University of Science Laboratory
More From Anapelli Hair Clinic
* FUE & Strip Harvesting & Natural Look Surgical Hair Restoration
** What Factors Determine the Best Hair Transplant Results?