Hair loss could one day be treated by lab-grown hair follicles

By modifying mouse embryonic skin cells, researchers created hair follicles up to 3 millimeters long in a month


October 21, 2022

A hair follicle generated from hair organoids – tiny, simple versions of an organ

Yokohama National University

Mature hair follicles have been grown in the lab for the first time, in a move that could one day treat hair loss.

Producing hair follicles artificially has always been very difficult, says Kairbaan Hodivala-Dilke of Queen Mary University of London, who was not involved in the study. “Different types of cells need different kinds of nutrients and when they’re outside the body they need different kinds of requirements than when they’re inside the body.”

In mammals, hair follicles are usually produced in embryos as a result of interactions between skin cells and connective tissue.

To better understand these interactions, Junji Fukuda of Yokohama National University in Japan and his colleagues studied hair follicle organoids – tiny, simple versions of an organ.

By controlling the structure of organoids, the team was able to improve hair follicle growth.

“We looked at various conditions, including growth factors, activators and inhibitors of signaling pathways, and essential components of the culture medium,” says Fukuda.

The team’s main breakthrough was culturing mouse embryonic skin cells in a special type of gel, which allowed the cells to be reprogrammed into hair follicles.

“If you think of a hair follicle, there’s the hair in the middle, and then there are layers of epithelial cells around the follicle and other specialized cells,” says Hodivala-Dilke. The gel allows these cells to grow in the lab in a way that means they can climb on top of each other. [like they do in the body]she says.

Hair follicles grew for up to a month, reaching up to 3 millimeters in length. “This is probably related to the fact that the hair cycle of mice is about a month long,” says Fukuda.

The team is now working to recreate the experiment using human cells.

According to Hodivala-Dilke, lab-grown human hair follicles could one day treat hair loss. “You might be able to take hair from someone who has really lush hair and grow it out in the lab, and then use those follicles to do a transplant,” she says. Existing hair transplants involve moving hair from one part of the body to a thinning or bald area, which can cause scarring.

“This discovery isn’t going to cure hair loss, but it does lay the groundwork for someone to potentially do it,” Hodivala-Dilke says.

Journal reference: Scientists progressDOI: 10.1126/sciadv.add4603

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