New hair loss treatments could be developed thanks to a scientific breakthrough in Japan, the researchers say.
The team, which covers several universities in the country, has studied the growth process of the hair follicle, hoping their work will contribute to the production of regenerative drugs.
A study published in the journal Science Advances reveals that they have successfully generated follicles, which are essentially the anchors that keep hair on the scalp and elsewhere.
The follicles were generated “in cultures,” the scientific jargon for under controlled conditions rather than in a natural setting, but now the researchers hope to replicate the breakthrough with human cells.
It could open new avenues of research for the development of new treatment strategies for hair loss disorders, including alopecia, which affects both women and men.
The team hopes their work will also contribute to understanding how and why some people suffer from hair loss.
“Our next step is to use human-derived cells and apply for drug development and regenerative medicine,” explained Junji Fukuda, professor of engineering at Yokohama National University (YNU).
How did the scientists make the discovery?
The key to the breakthrough is something called organoid cultures – these are tiny, simple versions of an organ that scientists can make for laboratory study purposes.
These organoids are designed to recreate the architecture and physiology of human organs, whereas researchers would traditionally rely on animal models.
Tatsuto Kageyama, an assistant professor at the YNU engineering faculty, said it was a “promising tool” that helped the team produce such promising results.
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Hair follicle organoids were created using a low density of “extracellular matrices”: this is the structure in our body that provides the structure for cells and tissues.
This helped the team get as close as possible to re-creating the process and environment needed for hair growth, while remaining in a controlled laboratory environment.
The end result was that the hair follicles and hair shafts were grown with nearly 100% efficiency, reaching around three millimeters in length after 23 days.
They also added a drug that stimulates melanocytes, a key cell for producing hair color. These results were once again very promising, improving the appearance of the fibers produced in the laboratory.