For decades, hair transplantation has been limited by the number of grafts available for any patient. Scientists in the USA are working on a technique that promises to make that a thing of the past.
This has become the treatment of choice for tens of thousands of men, and increasing numbers of women. Faced with a choice, as they see it, between a hair system and surgery many opt for transplantation. But the treatment has limits. Each patient will be advised by their surgeon on the maximum number of grafts available, based on the volume in the donor site and the area to be covered. New techniques and equipment have seen improvements to the scar left at the donor site. At the same time, the success rate for the relocated hairs has also improved.
One transplant advisor, effectively framing the problem, said: “I’ve lost track of the number of patients who wish they’d paid double for half the result.” He is referring to the gap between expectation and result that many experience. Then there is the unspoken issue of further hair loss and the cosmetic effect of that. This can leave transplanted hairs in place while the rest of the hairline continues to recede away from them. The choice, at that point, can be between further surgery for some or finally embracing the condition and shaving their head. The problem is that further transplantation may not be a surgical option, and shaving down might expose the donor scars.
Attempts have been made before to increase the number of grafts that can be relocated. Some have even tried using artificial hair to boost the region, with mixed results. The ambition has always been to be able to treat the bald area with as many grafts as needed to return the patient to a full head of hair. To take them back to their pre-hair loss state, or even better. But that has, until now maybe, always been a pipe dream.
A team working at Columbia University’s Irving Center have come up with a novel way of producing hair follicles in the laboratory. It is a combination of a few spheres of science, coming together to create a stunningly simple solution to the problem of high volume hair transplants. One which might do away with the need for a donor area, and the associated scarring, forever.
The team, led by Dr. Angelo Christiano, are using a 3D printer to produce a highly specialised mould. Into the surface of the mould are imprinted microscopic wells into which the team place neonatal skin cells. What they have created, up till this point, is essentially a plant pot ready to be seeded. The seeds arrived in the form of hair follicles donated by volunteers working at the lab. Nutrients came in the shape of a cocktail of growth factors.
Three weeks later the team had grown some of the most robust hair follicles ever to have been produced outwith the human body. Their work was published in the scientific journal, Nature.
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The ability to produce virtually unlimited amounts of follicles would be a genuine advance. Replacing the process of surgically excising follicles to move them, with one where we simply need to have hairs plucked would be a giant stride. The need to end up with scars is completely removed. At the same time, the surgeon is able to place many more healthy hairs into the region suffering from hair loss.
Their work also has possibilities for use as a testing environment for other hair loss cures. We wish them every success and will continue to watch their progress. Please click here to see the published study in on the Nature Research website.
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