Scientists have moved one step closer to finding a cure for baldness — you know, the unrelenting tyranny that has plagued mankind since the dawn of time.
Using stem cells from mice, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine have been able to grow ‘hairy skin’ in the lab for the first time. They grew both upper and lower layers of skin — epidermis and dermis, respectively — which successfully developed hair follicles as they would on a mouse.
Stem cell therapy has long been suggested as a possible future treatment for hair loss; however, of the various methods of generating skin tissue developed to day, none have been able to imitate the real thing on a consistent basis.
The ‘hairy skin’ tissue, on the other hand, resembles natural hair more than any other models previously created and could potentially be used for future anti-baldness drugs.
Stem cells can theoretically turn into any organ, and lead author of the study, Professor Karl Koehler, originally used them to create tiny versions of real organs called ‘organoids’, notably tiny versions of the inner ear to treat deafness. After his team discovered that the cells generated skin cells in addition to inner ear tissue, they decided to try to get them to sprout hair follicles.
Published in Cell Reports, Koehler’s research found that a single skin ‘bud’ developed in a culture can give rise to both the epidermis and dermis of skin. More than that, both layers of skin cells must grow together in a specific way in order for hair follicles to develop.
He described it as looking “like a little ball of pocket lint that floats around in the culture medium. The skin develops as a spherical cyst and then the hair follicles grow outrward in all directions – like dandelion seeds.”
Even if not the complete cure for baldness men have been waiting for, the breakthrough could shed fresh light on hair growth.