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Medical doctor examining a male scalp.

Japanese Scientists Develop Potential Stem Cell Treatment for Hair Loss

Streamlined techniques using stem cell technology could someday improve the success of hair transplantation as a treatment for male pattern baldness. Japanese scientists have reported a significant breakthrough.

The quest for a more effective weapon in the fight against hair loss has been going on for decades. Currently, the most effective remedies are medications — both topical and oral — and hair transplantation. The latter is a time-consuming and expensive procedure, and the results usually tend to be spotty at best.

But now a team of scientists at Japan’s Yokohama National University has developed a more effective transplantation procedure that could someday significantly improve the results of this treatment. Thus far, it’s been tested only in animals, but it does hold the promise of vastly improved hair transplantation results in humans.

Current Hair Transplantation Techniques

Today, hair transplantation procedures involve the harvesting of hair from areas where the patient’s hair growth is still relatively profuse. According to WebMD.com, hair transplant surgeons usually use one of two techniques to accomplish this goal. The techniques are known as follicular unit strip surgery (FUSS) or follicular unit extraction (FUE).

To harvest hair follicles using the FUSS technique, the surgeon removes a 6- to 10-inch strip of hair-bearing skin from the back of the patient’s head. The area of excision is then sutured closed. Next, the surgeon and his team divide the strip of skin into 500 to 2,000 tiny skin grafts, each of which contains one or more hair follicles. These are then individually transplanted into an area of hair loss.

FUE Procedure

The FUE procedure involves the harvesting of individual hair follicles usually from the back of the head in an area that has first been shaved cleanly. These hair follicles are harvested one by one and subsequently transplanted into the area of hair loss.

As the Japanese scientists explain in their study, published in the August 2019 issue of Biomaterials, stem cells are used as a key ingredient in developing hair follicle germs (HFGs) that can be implanted into areas of hair loss to jump-start new hair growth.

Although this concept has been looked at before, the Japanese research team found a way to dramatically speed up development of these tissue cultures, making the whole exercise far more viable than it previously was.

A Further Refinement

To further improve the potential of this hair transplantation technique, the scientists experimented by mixing hair follicle stem cells with a collagen gel. After 24 hours, the stem cells and collagen, as well as mouse epithelial cells, had bonded together into substances the scientists dubbed bead-based hair follicle germs (bbHFGs).

After transplanting both HFGs and bbHFGs onto the backs of mouse models of male pattern baldness, the scientists discovered that while both produced significant hair regrowth, the bbHFGs did so more quickly and comprehensively.

Years of testing likely remain before these new hair transplantation techniques become available for humans, but they do hold out the promise of vastly improved results.

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In the meantime, treatment of hair loss with medication remains a popular option. And Propecia and its generic equivalent, finasteride, are “the first line of attack for all men interested in treating their male pattern baldness,” according to the American Hair Loss Association. These are oral medications that lower levels of an enzyme that facilitates the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. The latter triggers hair loss by shrinking hair follicles to the point that they can no longer support hair growth.

Both Propecia and finasteride are available from eDrugstore.com, a longtime online facilitator based in Tempe, Arizona. To learn more, visit its Hair Loss page.

Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+