The Future in Hair Loss Treatments
Bald is beautiful — if you’re a newborn baby. But if you’re among the 50 million men and 30 million women in the United States experiencing complete or partial loss of hair, the condition, can cause feelings ranging from embarrassment to great concern.Throughout history, hair has been an important factor in the self-image human beings have of themselves and of the image they present to others. For men a healthy head of hair connotes vigor and virility; for women it represents femininity and beauty. Conversely, the loss of hair can greatly alter those impressions.
Yet, over time there has been little advancements in finding a cure to end this problem. However, recent studies are shedding more light on how our hair grows and possibly could give us the key to finding a cure for baldness soon (we hope). We take a look at the future in the world of hair loss.
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Recent research by scientist Thomas Dawson and his team, from A*STAR’s Institute of Medical Biology in collaboration with researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina Pharmacy School Department of Drug Discovery, suggests that the slowing of the metabolism as we age could be a driver of ‘chronogenetic alopecia’ or age-related hair loss, a condition that predominantly affects women. Understanding the energy it takes to grow a strand of hair could hold the key to ensuring women end their lives with a wonderful bouffant.
His latest study examines the role that mitochondrial metabolism and its by-product, reactive oxygen, play in the bioenergetics of the hair follicle.
Hair growth is an energy-intensive process, Dawson says, with an average human growing almost two meters of hair over their body per hour.
“It takes about 670 kilojoules of energy to grow one gram of hair, which is the equivalent of six minutes of intense exercise using both arms and legs,” Dawson points out.
He believes the cells that create the hair multiply and synthesize biomass so quickly that they burn enormous amounts of energy much like “driving a car with both feet down hard on the gas”.
“The motor is running absolutely flat out and as a result there is excess reactive oxygen generation in the hair follicle that actually damages the structure. The follicle then loses its ability to continue to operate at full form over time.”
The team also uncovered a previously unknown region in the hair shaft which they called the ‘ring of fire’ because it is a major source of reactive oxygen species.
Dawson says this study shows that hair follicles and growth are more complex than previously thought, and that quelling the formation of reactive oxygen species and maintaining mitochondrial metabolism could be key to improving hair quality as we age.
“If we use materials such as leave-on creams or lotions that alter metabolism you can change the way hair grows and make follicles survive longer and produce better hair.”
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STEM CELLS FOR HAIR
According to a study by Dr. Cheng-Ming Chuong, professor of pathology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, published by the Stem Cell Laboratory of the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, hair follicles can be grown from skin cells reproduced in vitro in the lab. Specifically, they were able to generate hair by uncovering the major molecular events necessary for the growth of skin and fostering it in adult shaved mice.
“Many aging individuals do not grow hair well, because adult cells lose their regenerative ability. But with our new findings, we are able to make adult mouse cells produce hair again,” says Dr. Chuong.
Stem cells, by definition, are undifferentiated cells that can be transformed into specialized cells to produce more of their kind.
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According to Dr. Mingxing Lei, the first author of the USC study, he and his international team of scientists used progenitor cells, a cell type more differentiated from stem cells. They transplanted the cells into shaved mice and from there witnessed how the cells behaved and recording the hair development that followed.
Researchers could not confirm exactly when human trials could begin but were optimistic their findings could inspire a method for treating humans with alopecia and baldness in the near future by using some of the patient’s own stem cells to grow skin with hair follicles in a lab, then transplanting it onto balding areas of the scalp.
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SYNTHETIC HAIR IMPLANTS
Besides traditional hair transplantation where patients’ own hair are transplanted back onto the scalp to cover the thinning areas, hair implants have come on the market that have been found to be biocompatible and safe to replace human hairs. With synthetic hair implants, patients who have undergone it report the procedure to be quicker, involve less discomfort, and with no downtime.
Using a specialized device that serves to ‘inject’ the synthetic hair into patients’ scalps, hairs are then inserted one by one under the local anaesthetized until the desired hair density is obtained.
Synthetic hairs come in a variety of colour, length (from 15 to 45 cm) and shape (straight, wavy, curly, afro) and are reported to be virtually indistinguishable from human hair.
“As far as I can see, hair implants can provide a solution for men who do not want the downtime of hair transplant, and can be a viable option for those who want to touch up receding hair lines without undergoing the process of harvesting their own follicles” says Dr Chua Han Boon from SW1 Clinic. “It may also serve as an attractive option for women who wants to thicken thinning hair instantly.”
These treatments are popular in Europe and USA, and serve as an emerging option for balding patients who shun traditional hair transplants or who have not been able to get good results from other hair treatments.