3D printing threatens to change the world as we know it. From printing new skin to bases on Mars, there is not much that is not expected from these incredible devices. But a new question is now being asked by a team at Columbia University, can 3D printers cure hair loss? We take a closer look at their work.
Hair Loss Cure Challenge
One of the challenges facing hair loss researchers is producing hair for testing. Cells are taken from the base of the human hair follicle with a view to growing them in the laboratory. It is a technique that works really well when they do the same thing with mice and rats. But for reasons not fully understood, when it comes to culturing human hair follicles the results are underwhelming.
Cracking this problem could go a long way towards a hair loss cure. If these cells could be cultured in a lab it opens the door to much-improved transplants. Instead of being restricted to the number of follicles available in the patient’s donor area, they could implant as many follicles as are required for coverage.
3D Printer To The Rescue
Dr. Angela Christiano, professor of dermatology at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, led the team. She had previously tried to culture the human cells inside hanging drops of liquid. It was then she turned to 3D printers and began investigating what they might bring to the table. It turned out that they were capable of producing precisely the shape the cells needed. The ultra-thin projections were more effective than hoped for. Key was a long thin extension, half a millimetre wide above the cell.
Follicle cells were placed into the wells, with more cells on top that produce keratin, from which the hair is made. They were then dosed with growth factors and three weeks later hair began to grow.
HIS Hair Clinic
This story is a great example of science colliding with some inspirational thinking to produce a result. The promise of hair transplants with unlimited grafts is teasing. But the technique has another, maybe more important, aspect. Using Dr. Christiano’s methods, other hair loss research teams can benefit. The process gives them, for the first time, a way of producing human hair that can be used for testing other new products. This video shows how the team achieved their success and tells the story of Dr. Christiano’s interest in hair.
So the 3D printer may yet revolutionise hair transplantation. It may also prove to be the key to unlocking other new techniques and products. Can 3D printers cure hair loss? Maybe not yet, but it seems entirely possible they are going to play their part.
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