Scientists move closer to baldness cure after growing fully mature hair follicles in lab

YOKOHAMA, Japan — A cure for baldness could be on the horizon after scientists generate hair follicles in a lab. A team from Yokohama National University grew fully mature follicles with long shafts.

They also improved hair follicle color after adding a drug that boosted melanin, a natural pigment. The technique involves creating skin organoids — tiny, simple versions of an organ in a Petri dish.

“Organoids were a promising tool to elucidate the mechanisms in hair follicle morphogenesis in vitro” says Tatsuto Kageyama, an assistant professor with the faculty of engineering at Yokohama National University, in a media release.

Hair loss affects up to two in five men. Going bald can harm mental health for both men and women. Scientists have long sought a cure for baldness, with many people turning to hair loss treatments and supplements for help.

Using two types of embryonic cells, the Japanese team developed hair shafts with almost 100 percent efficiency. The organoids produced fully mature follicles about three millimeters in length after 23 days of culture. As growth occurred, the researchers monitored formation and pigmentation — providing new insights into the chemicals involved in the process. The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, also have implications for animal testing and drug screening. By transplanting the organoids, they achieved regeneration with repeating hair cycles.

Researchers say the model could prove valuable in understanding hair follicle induction, for evaluating hair pigmentation and hair growth drugs, and for the regeneration of hair follicles.

hair follicle
A representative long sprouting hair follicle generated from hair follicloids after an extended period of culture. (CREDIT: Yokohama National University)

A baldness cure could be the next step in regenerative medicine

The results could also be relevant to other organ systems and contribute to the understanding of how physiological and pathological processes develop. Looking ahead to future research behind this potential baldness cure, the team plans to optimize their organoid culture system with human cells.

“Our next step is to use cells from human origin, and apply for drug development and regenerative medicine,” says Junji Fukuda, a professor with the faculty of engineering at Yokohama National University.

Future research could open the door to developing fresh treatments for hair loss disorders, such as male pattern baldness. The same principles could one day be harnessed to grow replacement teeth, or other organs as every hair is a tiny little organ.

Around half of women over the age of 65 suffer from female pattern baldness. Scientists still have little understanding about the molecular mechanisms behind hair growth and loss. Each hair follicle on our scalp is a miniature organ, which follows its own rhythmic cycle of growth, regression, and rest throughout our lifetimes.

With age, some of them become sensitive to hormones on the scalp, most notably dihydrotestosterone or DHT, which binds to the follicles and miniaturizes them until they no longer produce visible hair. However, we know hardly anything about how this miniaturization process happens, or how to prevent it.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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