I have received a lot of enquiries in 2017 about stem cells and what they may promise for better hair. Here is the state of the art.
What’s a Stem Cell?
The body has a supply of fresh new cells that can divide and turn into any cell currently needed. The most famous ones live in the bone marrow and these continually replenish our blood cells. In the hair follicle stem there is a supply of stem cells in a region called the “bulge.” These bulge stem cells kick off the growing phase in a cycling or resurrected hair follicle as well as supplying stem cells to repair nearby skin damage. Stem cells allow us to grow from a baby to an adult as well as replace worn out and dead tissues. Kids have heaps but the numbers decline as we get older. This is one of the ways we age.
How do we use Stem Cells?
There are three ways:
1. Growing plant, animal or human stem cells in a lab and using them to produce growth factors and other specialised proteins to improve the skin or hair. These specialised proteins can be sold in containers and used topically. The stem cells themselves would not survive the trip to your bathroom, they are not like sea monkeys which hibernate when dry. Also if these stem cells were injected or absorbed into the body they would be attacked as foreign invaders. How much do these growth factors and specialised proteins help the skin and hair? A little and temporarily.
2. Harvesting stem cells from your own body fat and injecting these “fat derived mesenchymal stem cells” back into the body. These are the stem cells that you hear about repairing the joints, filling the face and possibly having effects on the brain itself. How well do these stem cells help the hair and skin? About as well as PRP (see the last post about PRP) which means they give a significant boost to the hair which lasts about six months.
3. Using stem cells to clone an endless supply of hair follicles. This is the holy grail of hair loss treatment and it has already been achieved. I attended the World Congress of Hair Research (WCHR) Miami 2015 conference where Dr Takashi Tsuji of the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Japan outlined their progress in this area. They have managed to clone a single human hair follicle and transplant it into a mouse. But getting from this research project to a commercial organisation that can reliably clone thousands of hairs for thousands of people is a big step. We wish them all the best and I look forward to hearing the update when I attend the 2017 WCHR in Kyoto in November.
Making sense of Stem Cells.
Stem Cell therapy is a promising and rapidly advancing branch of medicine. When you hear about current and emerging stem cell therapy they will likely fall into one of these three categories.