microscopeStem cell research has generated a lot of interest – not to mention controversy – for decades. But the latest developments out of Japan have certainly got our attention: RIKEN, the largest research organisation in one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries, has teamed up with two big tech firms with the goal of creating a cure for baldness by 2020.

This might sound like a very big ask – which it is – but the people at RIKEN have form in this sort of thing. They’re already demonstrated that they can use stem cell research to regenerate teeth, certain glands and hair follicles in mice, using a process they call the primordium method.

We already know that hair follicles are the only thing apart from skin that our body can regenerate, and that’s down to our stem cells.

How stem cells can help cure hair loss

So if our hair follicles can keep regenerating hair, why do some of us lose it? Because no new follicles are produced after birth, and if they become damaged – due to a number of variables – those follicles stop reproducing.

Here’s where stem cell research can help: RIKEN intends to develop a hair restorative method whereby stem cells active in hair are isolated, removed, cultivated and harvested. They are then processed into follicles using the primordium method and either injected or auto-grafted back onto the scalp.

What does this mean for the hair loss market?

If this actually comes off, it’ll be a huge step forward in the world of hair transplants.

Up to now, the standard technique has involved taking hair from one place where there’s plenty of it and placing it where there isn’t, which does nothing to prevent further shedding.

This technique – if it works – will involve removing follicles from one tiny area, multiplying them considerably, and promising continued hair growth. We’ll be watching with great interest.

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By Ian Watson

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