Hair loss doesn’t cause any physical harm or pain, but the mental effect it has on self-esteem and depression is profound enough to support an $800 million per year hair restoration surgery industry. Future prospects for hair-loss prevention and regrowth looks promising, however, as researchers continue to test the capabilities of stem cells in creating new, healthy hair follicles.
How Does Hair Loss Occur?
The most common type of hair loss, called androgenic alopecia or male-pattern baldness, is responsible for over 95% of baldness cases in men. Balding occurs at the crown near the back of the head and at the hairline at the top of the forehead. Both areas experience thinning and eventual shutdown which gradually move toward the center of the head and meet.
Those who experience hair loss are genetically predisposed to it. They must possess the correct gene for hair loss before hair loss can be triggered. The trigger is the hormone dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, which acts as an extra-potent form of testosterone. DHT begins to miniaturize hair follicles at a certain age that differs depending on the person.
These follicles slowly deteriorate, shortening the anagen growth phase of hair. They leave hair thin, soft, short, and weak until the follicle goes completely dormant and stops growing hair.
Hair loss can also occur as a result of infection, drug use, scalp trauma, pregnancy, or disease.
Male Pattern Baldness Stages
What Can Stem Cells Do To Help Treat Hair Loss?
Stem cells, which are unspecialized cells that are able to differentiate and reproduce, may be able to provide the building blocks necessary to duplicate the hair growth of a normal hair follicle.
The Goals of Hair Loss Treatment vs. Modern Treatments
To conquer the entire spectrum of causes and be able to treat all of the sufferers of hair loss, treatments must be able to induce the regrowth of hair in dormant follicles. Modern treatments provide only temporary solutions to permanent hair loss, and many of the mechanisms involved are still not understood.
Minoxidil, the most common and effective proven treatment for hair loss, attempts to slow or stop hair loss and has a limited capacity for regrowth of hair. It also requires extremely disciplined and precise use. Those who use Minoxidil have to apply it twice a day deep into the scalp without damaging or irritating the follicles if they want to see results.
Hair transplantation, while exceptionally improved over the last 20 years, is still an expensive solution to hair loss with limited effectiveness. Strides in precision for hair loss transplants allow for a comparatively more natural look, but the price tag for that precision is too steep for most.
How Stem Cells Can Help
Early stem cell research in the hair loss field points to application in much more advanced hair transplant operations. Researchers are looking to recombine duplicated hair follicles made from dermal papilla cells with skin cells to create new, fully growing hair follicles. The short term result would mean much more affordable hair transplants with natural looking results -- depending on the skill of your hair transplant surgeon, of course.
Long-term stem cell researchers like those at the Hair and Scalp Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia hope to be able to stimulate regrowth of hair in the follicles you already have through the use of stem cells. They believe that fully effective hair loss treatment is possible decades from now, but there is advanced research and testing that still has to be done before anything remotely affordable will become available to the public.