Stem Cell Research, an Update
Here's the straightforward process that people suffering from hair loss would like to see. It may be closer than even they could optimistically hope for.
- Stem cells (uncommitted cells, "blank slate" cells) are removed from a person's good hair follicles from the sides or back of the head.
- These stem cells are then seeded (implanted) into bald or thinning areas of scalp tissue in which they start to proliferate and form new hair follicles.
- After a period of time these hair follicles produce thick, pigmented hair that grows at the proper angle.
- This new hair lasts - and there are no complications, no side effects.
Dr. George Cotsarelis and his team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania might have brought this scenario closer to realization according to an article published on a website - www.nature.com - on March 14, 2004. (If you want to read the article on this website, it'll cost you $30.) This same article will be published in the journal Nature Biotechnology in April.
The Cotsarelis team was able to isolate certain stem cells in the hair follicles of mice. These stem cells were in an area of the follicle called the bulge. They were able to separate these cells from the surrounding tissue by getting them to produce a green fluorescent glow. The other cells in the area did not glow. A cell sorting machine was then able to separate the glowing cells (the stem cells) from the non-glowing cells.
Dr. Cotsarelis and his team now transplanted some of these stem cells into the skin of specially bred bald mice. These cells after a period of time proliferated into hair follicles, adjacent sebaceous glands, and some skin cells. In human beings, however, going from a stem cell into an organ (hair follicles are micro-organs) may take a lot of biochemical prodding. Dr. Cotsarelis thinks it may take ten years before results similar to the ones obtained in mice are obtained in humans.
The research by Dr. Cotsarelis and his team might generate other breakthroughs also. These "purified" stem cells that were isolated will be able to help researchers find which genes are switched on when a hair follicle forms or perhaps miniaturizes. Gene chips will be used in this new research. Gene chips are small devices (the size of a postage stamp) with a glass substrate wafer. They contain a large number of cells - perhaps a half million. Each holds DNA from a different gene. Many sophisticated genetic tests can be performed with this mini-machine. Dr. Cotsarelis believes that with the data emerging from this new technology it will be possible to find better, more effective drugs to reverse the balding process. All this may happen - the new drugs, that is - in the next five years.
Please read my article - Stem Cell Research - for a more detailed explanation of this biomedical technology.