What is Hair Cloning?
Hair cloning is a promising treatment for androgenetic alopecia, or common genetic hair loss that is being actively researched by pioneering hair restoration physicians.
This fascinating field is not only interesting because of the rapidly-developing nature of the science of cloning hair, but, more specifically, because hair cloning methods have the potential to yield a treatment that effectively “cures” common hair loss -– something that scientists and physicians have been seeking for decades.
Hair cloning is a term that is often used to broadly describe a set of ideas on how to use laboratory techniques to solve the problem of hair loss. Technically, however, there is a difference between true hair cloning and the technique of hair multiplication for treating baldness.
What is Hair Multiplication?
In contrast to hair cloning, where germinative cells are multiplied outside the body in essentially unlimited amounts, in hair multiplication, donor hair follicles are removed from the scalp and then manipulated in a way that the total amount of hair is increased. This can involve using transected, or cut, hair follicles and implanting them directly into the scalp with the hope that the follicles will regenerate and grow a complete hair. Another technique uses plucked hair fragments rather than whole or transected follicles.
The concept behind hair multiplication using plucked hair is that it is an easy, non-invasive method of obtaining germinative cells.
In one form of hair multiplication, hairs are plucked from the scalp or beard and then implanted into the bald part of the scalp. The idea is that some germinative cells at the base of the hair follicle will be pulled out along with the hair. Once the hair is re-implanted, these cells would be able to regenerate a new follicle. Microscopic examination of the plucked hair helps the doctor determine which hairs have the most stem cells attached and thus which are most likely to regrow. The procedure is called “hair multiplication” since the plucked follicles would regrow a new hair, potentially giving an unlimited supply.
The Model for Hair Cloning
When it comes to cloning, hair follicles present a significant challenge. Hair follicles are too complex to be simply multiplied in a test-tube and are not whole organisms, seem to have made great headway in solving the dilemma.
In addition, there is some evidence that the recipient skin can influence the look of the hair. Thus, the final appearance of the patient may more closely resemble the bald person’s original hair, than the hair of the person donating the inducer cells. The person-to-person transfer of cells would be important in situations where there was a total absence of hair. Fortunately, in androgenetic alopecia (genetic hair loss) there is a supply of hair on the back and sides of the scalp that would serve as the source of dermal sheath cells, so the transfer between people would rarely be necessary.
Probably the most important aspect of this experiment is the fact that these “inducer” dermal sheath cells are fibroblasts. Fibroblasts, as it turns out, are among the easiest of all cells to culture, so that the donor area could potentially serve as an unlimited supply of hair.
What Still Needs to be done
There are a number of problems that still confront us in cloning hair. First, there is the need to determine the most appropriate follicular components to use. Next, these extracted cells must be successfully cultured outside the body. Third, a cell matrix might be needed to keep them properly aligned while they are growing. Finally, the cells must be successfully injected into the recipient scalp in a way that they will consistently induce hair to grow.
However, it is not even certain that the induced follicles will actually grow long enough to produce cosmetically significant hair. And once that hair is shed in the normal hair cycle, there are no assurances that it will grow and cycle again.
A major technical problem to cloning hair is that cells in culture begin to de-differentiate as they multiply and revert to acting like fibroblasts again, rather than hair. Finding the proper environment in which the cells can grow, so that they will be maintained in a differentiated (hair-like) state, is a major challenge to the researchers and appears to be the single greatest obstacle to this form of therapy coming to fruition. This is not unlike the problems in cloning entire organisms where the environment that the embryonic cells grow in is the key to their proper differentiation and survival.
Models for Cloning Hair
Hair Cloning Methods There is four main experimental techniques that have been recently described by Teumer. These are: 1) Implanting Dermal Papillae cells alone, 2) Placing DP cells alongside miniaturized follicles, 3) Implanting DP cells with keratinocytes (“Proto-hairs”), and 4) Cell Implantation using a Matrix.
Finally, although remote, there may be safety concerns that cells that induce hair may also induce tumours, or exhibit malignant growth themselves. Once these obstacles have been overcome, there are still the requirements of FDA approval which further guarantees safety as well as effectiveness. This process involves three formalized stages of clinical testing and generally takes years.
On the status of cloning — it is still a work in progress. Although there has been much recent success, and we finally have a working model for how hair cloning might eventually be accomplished, much work still needs to be done.