When Dolly the sheep first came into the world in mid-1996, it actually opened up a world of opportunities. With cloning becoming a reality, there was the chance that a greater number of people would benefit, in a variety of ways. Today, cloning has entered and revolutionised the world of hair restoration too. However, in order to understand how cloning has changed the world of hair restoration, it is important to understand what hair cloning actually is.
Hair cloning is actually emerging as a very promising treatment for genetic hair loss or androgenetic alopecia. Several doctors and researchers are actually trying to use this method to bid hair loss farewell. The process entails using a sample of the person’s own hair follicle cells, which are still in the germinative stage. These cells are then multiplied outside the body, and then implanted back into the scalp. Since these new hairs have been created from germinative hair follicles, they should usually lead to the growth of permanent hair. However at this time of writing of the article, all these things are primarily limited to the experimental stage only and has not been applied to clinical situation.
For better understanding, it is imperative to know the difference between hair cloning and hair multiplication.
The models for hair cloning:
The very first hurdle that came across the scientists working in this field was that hair follicles are actually very complex entities and since they are not whole organisms, their growing without support is difficult. However, Dr. Amanda Reynolds and Dr. Colin Jahoda in collaboration with Dr. Christiano of Columbia University found a way out.
Their studies showed that the cells right beneath the dermal sheath could be sequestered from the body of one person and then injected into the skin of another person. The process could actually promote the growth of new hair in the person, into whose scalp the cells have been injected into. The cells create an interaction in the area, which allows the stimulation of new hair follicles. Even though this might not be considered by many as a cloning process, it can certainly provide a possibility of hair restoration.
Yet another interesting facet of this experiment conducted by Reynolds, Jahoda and Christiano was the procedure was not gender specific – as in cells harvested from a male donor could be received by a female candidate or vice versa. As long as there were no obvious rejection related issues, this started to look like a more plausible solution to hair loss. As a matter of fact, repeat injections in clinical studies showed that there were minimal issues of rejection. This also proved that dermal sheath cells perhaps had some sort of immunity, which ensured that there would be total acceptance.
There were also observations that the condition of the recipient skin can have an effect on the way the hair eventually looks. This meant that even though cells were taken from another person, the new hair would look like the original hair of the person receiving the cell implants.
As of now, there are four processes that are being researched and studied:
- Implant only dermal papillae cells, wherein the dermal papillae cells are implanted into the dermis. The process allows the overlying skin cells to convert into hair follicles. This process is also referred to as follicular neo-genesis as there has been evidence of new hair emerging on a bald skull.
- Implant the cloned dermal papillae cells right next to the miniaturized follicles as the dermal papillae cells can induce the keratinocytes to grow into new hair. Since the existing follicles already have a structure, the new hair that will grow will look very natural.
- Implant the dermal papillae cells with the Keratinocytes, which have been cultured in tandem, allowing for the initiation of hair formation. These ‘cultured hair’ are placed on the scalp, offering better directional control of the hair placement.
- Implant the cells using a collagen matrix or even other synthetic materials, since the matrix will behave like a scaffold, offering the cells a chance to form the actual follicle.
While all these methods are being tried and tested, they are still awaiting approval from all important agencies such as FDA. In addition, there are also several stages of clinical testing that need to be completed.
What the future looks like:
Even though the future does look bright, there is still a lot that needs to be done. For starters, the dermal sheath cells have to become easier to locate, because they are not that easy to find. More importantly, there is no saying that these cells will produce the best hair.
The actual process of culturing these cells, outside of the body, is yet another task which has to be done carefully. If the environment is not right, there is no way the cultures will thrive. The cell matrix would also be an important aspect, because these would be needed to keep the alignment in order. Finally, the injection of the cultured cells has to be done in time and with care to ensure proper results.
There is no real guarantee that the cells that have been injected will produce hair that grows in the same direction as the natural hair or that they will have the same colour and texture. There is also no saying whether the new hair that grows will shed and if the shed hair will actually grow back.
This is why, at present, it would be a good idea to opt for a follicular unit extraction or transplant process as these would give much more natural looking results.