There are a lot of hair restoration clinics and individuals out there that claim to be offering “hair cloning.” While this technology is not yet available for use by consumers, it is a topic that deserves some exploration. Hair follicle cloning has the potential to revolutionize traditional hair restoration techniques. It could replace the need for scalp transplants entirely.
Cloning Hair Follicles
Hair follicle cloning is one of the most exciting and ambitious new treatments for androgenetic alopecia (common genetic hair loss). In this promising treatment, a sample of a patient’s germinative hair follicle stem cells are multiplied outside the body and then re-implanted into the scalp to replace thinning or balding hair follicles. Unfortunately, this technology is still quite a ways away from being available as an effective hair restoration solution for Houston men and women suffering from male or female pattern baldness. Although a few practitioners and institutions, primarily in overseas countries, falsely claim to have already cracked this innovative treatment for hair loss, a significant number of technical hurdles still need to be overcome. For example, a hair follicle is not a single cell or structure as many might think; it’s better described as a mini-organ that contains oil glands, nerves, muscles, and a developing hair shaft. Different experimental techniques have been developed, such as implanting dermal sheath cells in an extracellular matrix to promote the formation of full-term hair follicles. Another experimental technique involves transplanting transected or cut hair follicles to stimulate their growth by inducing neogenesis, essentially creating a brand-new hair follicle from an existing follicle that’s been wholly or partially destroyed by genetic or environmental factors.
Transplanting Hair Follicles
While hair transplants are a fantastic treatment for male and female pattern baldness, the procedure is invasive and comes with a hefty price tag. Researchers have been looking into ways to cure baldness without surgery permanently. They plan to do this by cloning and multiplying hair follicles. The problem is that hair follicles are too complex to grow in a test tube. But scientists have recently made significant headway in solving this challenge. Their study used dermal sheath cells located at the base of a hair follicle. These cells can be cultured in a petri dish and then injected into the skin to promote the formation of intact hair follicles. However, the cells need to be able to communicate with each other effectively and signal what they are supposed to do. Scientists believe a gene called Lgr5 may be the key to unlocking this communication process. If this technology can work as planned, it could lead to a new type of hair restoration treatment. Instead of moving healthy full-size, vigorously growing hair follicles from one part of the scalp to thinning areas, increasing the number of hair follicles available is necessary. This could mean a new approach to treating baldness that would be more effective than the current FDA-approved treatments.
Cloning Stem Cells
One of the most exciting prospects in hair restoration involves cloning dermal papilla cells. This method could eventually create a new, unlimited supply of hair follicles that can be transplanted to areas affected by baldness. However, this technology is still several years away. To clone hair, scientists need to understand what goes on inside the body when the cells that make up a hair follicle differentiate into different types of cells. This process, known as morphogenesis, has been challenging to reproduce in the laboratory because hair follicles are so complex. A single hair follicle contains oil glands, nerves, and other structures that must all be duplicated to create a functioning cell. In one study, researchers used rodent embryonic cells to replicate the morphogenesis process that leads to hair follicles. They then inserted these cloned cells into the skin of mice. As a result, the mice developed complete, healthy hair follicles that produced regular, functional hair shafts. This research is a crucial step towards developing a method for cloning hair cells and implanting them into the scalp to grow full, healthy hair. This type of treatment, also called hair multiplication, would help a wide range of patients, including those with extreme baldness.
Some organizations already claim to be cloning hair follicles and selling them to individuals, but these are usually unregulated institutions and individuals. While cloning hair does hold real promise, it is still a long way from being a viable solution to treating baldness. Researchers hope to develop methods that will allow them to clone hair follicles and transplant them into areas where they would typically not grow, such as a receding hairline or bald patch. These follicles would then grow and produce new hair in that area, filling in the gaps to make the scalp appear full again. One such technique is to clone cells that are part of the dermal sheath of a hair follicle, the outer portion of the follicle that surrounds the germinative hair cells. These cells are known as fibroblasts and are relatively easy to culture in the laboratory. However, these fibroblasts are unlikely to induce the formation of new hair because they don’t contain the correct type of stem cells that can trigger hair follicles to grow hair. Another approach is to clone the dermal papilla cells, which are the precursors of hair follicles. These cells are easily cultured but lose their ability to induce a new hair follicle to form once cloned and multiplied in a petri dish.