Yet Another Application of Stem Cell Based Regenerative Medicine to Hair Restoration

It would be an interesting and possibly rather depressing exercise to compare funding for reversal of age-related hair loss to that for the effective treatment of various other aspects of aging. Hair restoration, I think, is fairly well funded in comparison with many lines of research that I consider to be far more important. What moves the needle for you: looking good or living in good health? It would be a tremendous improvement over the present state of the human condition to find oneself at age 80 and balded, yet with internal organs repaired by rejuvenation biotechnologies, and the health and vigor to complain loudly about the terrible state of hair regrowth medicine. Instead I rather fear the order of development is going to be the other way around, with elderly people continuing to crumble inside in a score of ways yet having the option of a naturally flowing head of hair should they so desire. Progress happens most rapidly where the funding flows, and vanity has never been well restrained by common sense.

In reality we'd like to see unrestrained research funding sufficient for rapid progress on all fronts of regeneration and rejuvenation, whether merely vain and secondary or connected to the essential function of organs actually required for healthy life. Funding for medical research is such a tiny fraction of the resources spent on frivolous things that there is always room for growth through persuasion.

Researchers develop method to induce human hair growth using pluripotent stem cells

"We have developed a method using human pluripotent stem cells to create new cells capable of initiating human hair growth. The method is a marked improvement over current methods that rely on transplanting existing hair follicles from one part of the head to another. Our stem cell method provides an unlimited source of cells from the patient for transplantation and isn't limited by the availability of existing hair follicles."

The research team developed a protocol that coaxed human pluripotent stem cells to become dermal papilla cells. They are a unique population of cells that regulate hair-follicle formation and growth cycle. Human dermal papilla cells on their own are not suitable for hair transplants because they cannot be obtained in necessary amounts and rapidly lose their ability to induce hair-follicle formation in culture. "We developed a protocol to drive human pluripotent stem cells to differentiate into dermal papilla cells and confirmed their ability to induce hair growth when transplanted into mice. Our next step is to transplant human dermal papilla cells derived from human pluripotent stem cells back into human subjects. We are currently seeking partnerships to implement this final step."

Derivation of Hair-Inducing Cell from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells

Dermal Papillae (DP) is a unique population of mesenchymal cells that was shown to regulate hair follicle formation and growth cycle. During development most DP cells are derived from mesoderm, however, functionally equivalent DP cells of cephalic hairs originate from Neural Crest (NC). Here we directed human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) to generate first NC cells and then hair-inducing DP-like cells in culture.

We showed that hESC-derived DP-like cells (hESC-DPs) are able to induce hair follicle formation when transplanted under the skin of immunodeficient NUDE mice. Engineered to express GFP, hESC-derived DP-like cells incorporate into DP of newly formed hair follicles and express appropriate markers. We demonstrated that BMP signaling is critical for hESC-DP derivation since BMP inhibitor dorsomorphin completely eliminated hair-inducing activity from hESC-DP cultures.

DP cells were proposed as the cell-based treatment for hair loss diseases. Unfortunately human DP cells are not suitable for this purpose because they cannot be obtained in necessary amounts and rapidly loose their ability to induce hair follicle formation when cultured. In this context derivation of functional hESC-DP cells capable of inducing a robust hair growth for the first time shown here can become an important finding for the biomedical science.


I'm wondering how long it is before a dodgy US or overseas stem cell clinic starts offering these derived Dermal Papillae cells as a treatment option?

Does the protocol need to be changed so that the DP cells can be derived from induced pluripotent stem cells rather than embryonic stem cells ?

Posted by: Jim at January 27th, 2015 8:06 PM

1. @ Reason - that is why me and other people here on your blog suggested that SENS can benefit a lot from implementing some "cosmetic" approaches. While that is not what we are aiming for - true rejuvenation is! - that actually can provide lots of funding to theirs other projects. "Good looks" sells a lot! Just look at the film industry. Maybe SENS will listen to these suggestions and make a smart move, that will accelerate their research progress.

2. As for stem cells for hair restoration, there is also Histogen that seems to have a good direction on this. I do not know when they plan on marketing their product, but seems like they are conducting some trials.

Here is the link for their Hair Stimulating Complex:

Posted by: Adrian Crisan at January 27th, 2015 9:18 PM

Although I agree that rejuvenation of one's vital organs is more important than vanity, this type of vanity rejuvenation may serve to advance the SENS agenda. People who buy into the pro-aging trance fear both being frail AND appearing so in later years. If aging people are able to look younger, they will hopefully not fear living too long. Instead, they may dream of extended lifespans with both good looks and good health. They would tend to support any new biotech breakthroughs that rejuvenate their health as well made by startups like the one funded by Methusaleh.

Posted by: Morpheus at January 27th, 2015 10:58 PM

I left my thoughts on the "vanity" criticism in response to this previous story on balding:

Off-topic, but it seems Dr. de Grey has an upcoming interview and that the interviewer is taking questions in the form of youtube comments:

Figured I'd post that to help anyone who might have a question get it in while the opportunity is still available.

Posted by: José at January 27th, 2015 11:19 PM

I believe that when a treatment for something "vain" such as hair becomes efficacious and is released to the public (There is nothing available now and will not be for years to come...) this will do more for the overall project of therapies for aging than anything else on tap. The larger population might be curious if we tissue engineer a human spleen. But most will just shrug and wonder what the hell a spleen is and go about their day. Whereas if their friend John who has been bald for 15 years grows a head of hair, they will be riveted and stunned.

Because we are a visual creature and our culture is increasingly visual.

In the film ET, there is a moment when he performs a miracle and dead flowers return to life and full bloom. A bald man growing hair is a VISUAL reversal of aging that almost anyone would "get."

This "getting" of the subject is what is lacking in creating public awareness. Most people believe these treatments are far too good to be true and there is no real "proof" (There is, I know...) it is even possible. Treatments for vanity that actually worked would put that argument - in mass culture - to bed.

So we can protest and disparage the foolishness of the madding crowds or we can trim our sails and use that gale force wind to push us towards our goals. I advocate the later. Let some treatment for hairloss come to market. Let the makers profit handsomely. Let every news agency in the world report the story. Let a billion or two billion people hear about regeneration therapy for the first time in their lives. Use the narrative, don't disabuse the narrative. Yes, it's for vanity. So what? Purism is wonderful if you are an ancient Greek philosopher. And even then...

Posted by: Jersey Jones at January 28th, 2015 9:07 AM

I more or less agree with the above sentiment.

Hair is a bit simpler than some of the larger organs so even if there was no vanity associated with it, it's likely science would have started there anyway. I think hair is a good pilot trial for stem cell therapies in general because it's not a vital organ to survival.

Posted by: Michael-2 at January 28th, 2015 11:41 PM

Yep, the simple "cosmetic" things are a great starting point:
baldness, gray hair, age spots
And even the ones that aren't completely cosmetic, but are still "skin deep" and may succumb to the same sorts of treatments:
skin sores, blepharitis and dry eyes, presbyopia, cataracts, some arthritis

Not only are these extremely visible, but often it would be safer to start experiments with these sort of enhancements.

There's a lot of money and interest in those treatments, which would definitely translate into more comprehensive therapies as well.

Posted by: John at January 29th, 2015 9:54 PM

I know it's fun to a adopt a world weary pose and wag your finger at all those "vain" folks out there who would like their hair back, but frankly that's short sighted and self indulgent.

This tech will have applications in other, more "important" areas, and if it takes some funding of vain applications to get results in less sexy areas, then that's all to the good.


Posted by: Ken at February 2nd, 2015 7:14 PM
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