Lab-grown hair cells to treat baldness could be on the way

A major breakthrough came in the early 2000’s, when Japanese researchers hit a simple formula to turn any type of fetal tissue into powerful stem cells. The fantasies ran wild. Scientists realized that they could potentially produce an unlimited supply for almost any type of cell – the nerves or the heart muscle.

In practice, however, the formula for producing certain types of cells may prove elusive, and then there is the problem of bringing back the cells grown in the laboratory to the body. So far, there have been only a few demonstrations of reprogramming as a method of treating patients. Researchers in Japan have attempted to transplant retinal cells into blind people. Then, last November, a US company, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, stated that it could cure type 1 diabetes in humans after a programmed beta cell infusion, which responds to insulin.

The concept followed by startups is to collect normal cells from patients, such as skin, then transform them into hair-forming cells. In addition to dNovo, a company called Stamson (its name is Stem Cell and Samson’s Portmentu) has raised $ 22.5 million, including drug company AbbVie. Geoff Hamilton, co-founder and CEO, says his company is transplanting reprogrammed cells into rat and pig skin to test the technology.

Both Hamilton and Lujan believe there is a significant market. About half of men go through male-pattern baldness, some starting in their 20s. When women lose hair, it is usually usually thinner, but not a blow to a person’s self-image.

These companies are bringing high-tech biology into the industry known for delusions. There are plenty of bogus claims about both hair loss remedies and stem cell potential. Paul Knopfler, a stem cell biologist at UC Davis, wrote in November that “you should be aware of the scam offer.”

Close up of skin organoids that are covered with hair follicles.

Gione Lee and Carl Kohler, Harvard Medical School

Fraudulent business

So will stem cell technology cure baldness or become the next false hope? Hamilton, the founder of Stamson, was invited to give a keynote address at this year’s Global Hair Loss Summit and says he tried to emphasize that the company still has a lot of research. “We have seen a lot [people] Come in and say they have a solution. It has happened a lot in the hair, and so I have to address it, “says Hamilton.” We are trying to show the world that we are real scientists and that it is so dangerous that I cannot guarantee that it will work. “

Currently, there are several approved hair loss treatments, such as Propecia and Rogan, but their use is limited. In another procedure, the surgeon cuts strips of skin from which the person still has hair and transplants the follicles to the bald spot. In the future, hair-growing cells grown in the lab could be added to a person’s head through similar surgery, Lugen says.

“I think people will go too far to get their hair back. But in the beginning it would be a fair process and very expensive, “said Professor Carl Kohler of Harvard University.

Hair follicles are surprisingly complex organs formed by molecular crossstock between different types of cells. And Kohler says pictures of mice growing human hair are not new. “Every time you look at these images,” says Kohler, “there is always a trick and some flaw in translating them into humans.”

Kohler’s lab grows hair shafts in a completely different way by growing organoids. Organoids are tiny blobs of cells that self-organize in petri dishes. Kohler says he was studying the treatment of native deafness and wanted to develop inner ear hair-like cells. But its organoids instead became skin, complete with hair follicles.

Kohler admitted the accident and now makes spherical skin organoids that grow for about 150 days and become fairly large – about two millimeters. Tube-like hair follicles are clearly visible and, he says, are the equivalent of down hair covering the fetus.

One surprise is that the organoids grow backwards, the hair pointing inwards. “You can see the beautiful architecture, but the big question is why they grow from the inside out,” says Kohler.

Harvard Labs uses a supply of reprogrammed cells established by a 30-year-old Japanese man. But it looks at other donor cells to see if organoids can lead to hair with specific colors and textures. “It’s in full demand,” says Kohler. “Cosmetics companies are interested. Their eyes light up when they see organoids.

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