The latest development in stem cell research – stem cell treatment for hair loss – shows great promise for stimulating new hair growth. It addresses the problem of thinning hair for both men and women.
When hair growth slows with age, many people feel despondent, depressed, less confident, and generally unhappy. The prospect of a continuing downhill slide makes the situation even worse, which is why stem cell transplant for hair loss has become a big business in the last several decades.
Progress In Stem Cell Treatment For Hair Loss
In this article:
- Addressing Hair Loss Problems
- How Does Human Hair Grow?
- So Why Does Hair Loss Occur?
- What Makes Hair Grow Anew?
- How Do Stem Cells Help?
- What Is Stem Cell Transplant for Hair Loss?
- Whose Stem Cells Do You Use?
- Where Do Physicians Get Stem Cells?
- What Is the Hair Restoration Process Like?
- Stem Cell Transplant for Hair Recovery and Side Effects
- Success Rate and Cost of Stem Cell Transplant for Hair
- RepliCel’s Cell Therapy for Hair Loss
- How Effective are Hair Loss Treatments?
Addressing Hair Loss Problems
Up until now, there haven’t been many things physicians could do to stop hair loss on a permanent basis. At least, none that looked natural. Hair plugs made their entrance onto the scene decades ago, but even with modern updates to the process, they often still look unnatural – especially on balding men.
The other solution, which is hair restoration products such as Rogaine and others, works fairly well. However, they stop producing results shortly after stopping the process. This means it isn’t a long-term solution. Also, some studies show they may be dangerous for kids.
Stem cell treatments for hair loss, however, show great promise in both overcoming the oddness of hair plugs and the impermanence of chemical treatments. By relying on stem cells – the body’s master cells, which depending on the environment can become a huge range of different tissue types – physicians may now overcome this age-old problem of humanity.
To make the best decision on an individual level, it’s helpful to have all the information about what causes hair loss, how stem cells can help, what the therapeutic process is like and whom it’s right for.
How Does Human Hair Grow?
Human hair follicles produce hair on the head as well as elsewhere on the body. The hair begins to grow from the root or follicle. As it develops, it pushes up the hair above it. In some places on the body, it stops once it reaches a certain length. Think leg or chest hair. The head, however, is unique. The hair on top of the head (for men and women) and the beard (for men) continues to grow indefinitely, though that growth may slow down over time.
In order to grow, the hair needs several “ingredients,” including:
- Protein cells to create the hair itself
- Blood to feed the root, bringing it oxygen and nutrients
- Oil to keep the hair shiny, soft, pliable and safe from breakage
- Chemical stimulants, called growth factors, to tell hair to continue growing from the follicle
- Productive follicles
Without all of these ingredients present, hair growth slows, thins, and eventually stops entirely.
So Why Does Hair Loss Occur?
Hair loss occurs when the scalp stops receiving those chemical signals that tell it to grow new hair from existing follicles. When that happens, the follicles shrink and eventually close up, preventing new hair from growing out of them. Even if hair does continue to grow, it often becomes thinner, wispier, or of a coarser and less reliable texture.
In some cases, conditions such as androgenetic alopecia cause unnatural hair loss. This, as well as other genetic conditions (including simple baldness) often explain hair loss. Other explanations include medications, hormonal changes or simple genetic predisposition.
The problem with baldness or thinning hair is that you are born with all the hair follicles you will ever have. While it’s a generous amount – about 5 million bodywide and roughly 500,000 on your scalp – it’s still not enough to make up for hair that dies over time. You lose between 50 and 100 hairs per day, so if you don’t make up for those hairs, thinning occurs quickly. (That’s almost 4,000 a year that might not get replaced!)
What Makes Hair Grow Anew?
While thinning hair won’t start growing again without help, the human race now has several blunt solutions to recreating hair. As discussed, these are chemical or surgical (i.e. a hair transplant) in nature.
However, regenerative medicine is a much better approach. It’s all about helping the body repair itself when it wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to do so. By replacing dead hair follicles with living ones and adding human growth factors to the scalp’s makeup, physicians can jump-start the growth process and fight baldness.
That’s where stem cell therapy comes in.
How Do Stem Cells Help?
In order to understand how stem cells help address hair loss, it’s first necessary to understand what stem cells are.
Essentially, a stem cell is a cell that is capable of numerous divisions (in some cases, indefinite divisions). It is also capable of making new cells that the body doesn’t normally produce on its own. This includes nerve cells, cardiac cells, mature blood cells, and many others. When dead or damaged hair follicles stop growing, the body does not always replace them.
There is evidence that stem cells may help by re-triggering the growth and reproduction of cells in an area of the body that was formerly too old or damaged to do so on its own. By reintroducing such cells to the scalp, physicians and aestheticians can help clients rediscover their formerly thick, lustrous hair.
What Is Stem Cell Transplant for Hair Loss?
The process of stem cell transplant for hair is similar to the traditional methods of stem cell treatment. Instead of removing a number of hair strands to transplant to the hair loss areas, a stem cell transplant for hair is performed. The procedure starts by removing a skin sample where the hair follicles are obtained. The sample is then reproduced and implanted in the areas with hair loss. This allows the hair to grow and propagate in the parts where hair has thinned or is absent, and where the follicles were taken from.
Whose Stem Cells Do You Use?
In many cases involving regenerative medicine, it is dangerous or unwise to use one’s own stem cells. That’s because, in the event that the patient has cancer or another transmissible disease and is trying to combat or cure it, the person’s own stem cells may introduce the very disease the patient otherwise wants to address.
However, in the case of hair loss, the problem is a natural one and not the product of a deadly ailment. That makes it much safer to use one’s own tissue. Moreover, there is no risk of graft-versus-host disease (in which a donor’s cells will attack the patient’s body to which they are introduced, causing a range of symptoms or even death). For obvious reasons, except in the case of an autoimmune disorder (which, again, likely isn’t present), the patient’s own cells will not attack their body.
That makes harvesting the patient’s own cells relatively safe and effective.
Where Do Physicians Get Stem Cells?
In other forms of regenerative medicine, physicians may acquire adult stem cells from multiple places in the body. These include:
- From fat (called adipose-derived stem cells)
- Bone marrow (mesenchymal stem cells
- Blood (hematopoietic)
Scientists can culture these stem cells in the lab to create a broad range of other cell types, helping address diseases such as cancer or major injuries to the body.
In the case of hair follicle restoration, scientists may also take a punch biopsy to collect and isolate human adult stem cells that are present within human hair follicles.
What Is the Hair Restoration Process Like?
At this time, the Hair Science Institute (HSI) is arguably the leading global institution offering hair restoration procedures.
As stated by HSI, “Researcher Coen Gho has conducted fundamental research on hair transplantation since 1996. His studies have found that different parts of the hair follicle contain stem cells that can stimulate hair growth. These studies formed the basis of the hair multiplication techniques used by Hair Science Institute, such as hair stem cell transplantation.”
According to the Hair Science Institute, stem cell transplant is painless and effective. The steps include:
- Removing blood or fat
- Isolating stem cells from the sample
- Removing part of the hair follicle (and leaving a part in place)
- Stimulating and duplicating hair follicles in the lab to create more of them
- Injecting existing donor follicles with stem cells to stimulate regrowth
- Inserting new follicles on bare parts of the scalp, along with stem cells to stimulate their growth as well
The stem cell injections and hair implants are relatively painless, and most likely once the patient has done a round of treatments (discussed below), they won’t have to undergo them again.
Stem Cell Transplant for Hair Recovery and Side Effects
There’s no recovery time required for stem cell transplant for hair loss. The patient may experience pain after the procedure but this should decrease within a week post-treatment. The patient may also expect scarring on the areas where the tissue sample was removed. Excessive exercise must be avoided in a week following the procedure.
Less information about the stem cell transplant for hair side effects is available. But, as with the side effects of any medical procedure, chances of bleeding and infection are high. There’s also a small risk of nerve or artery damage from the punch biopsy beneath the area where the tissue sample was taken. This side effect can also be the same with liposuction.
Success Rate and Cost of Stem Cell Transplant for Hair
While the success rate of stem cell transplants can vary by procedure, in a well-known study published June 2017, Italian researchers documented a 29% increase in hair density for 23 weeks after stem cell therapy.
These researchers developed a method for isolating human adult stem cells using centrifugation after collecting a biopsy from human hair follicles. Summarizing their findings, the researchers conclude, “We have shown that the isolated cells are capable to improve the hair density in patients affected by androgenetic alopecia (AGA).”
The cost of stem cell transplant for hair is also variable, as research is still ongoing. Several investigational clinics offer services ranging from $3,000 to $10,000. However, the final cost may still depend on the hair loss type and the extent to be treated.
It usually requires between two and six treatments to see results, and even then a patient may need more to get the look they want. Also, results are never guaranteed, so even if the patient is willing to pay for as many as possible, the returns may diminish over time. If, knowing these facts, the patient wishes to proceed, there is a good chance they’ll like the results.
Who will benefit this stem cell treatment for hair loss? The short answer is (potentially) anyone. Stem cells harvested from one’s own body are very safe, and the process carries low risk of infection or reaction.
Although there’s a potentially high success rate for stem cell transplant for hair loss, research about this medical procedure is still ongoing. If interested, it’s advisable to seek a stem cell transplant for hair from clinics approved by the FDA. For the time being, seeking more knowledge about stem cell transplant for hair is a stepping stone for understanding the therapeutic benefits of stem cells for hair loss.
Replicel’s Cell Therapy for Hair Loss
Moreover, a fascinating biotech company that is working on a treatment for hair loss is Replicel. Headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, the company is developing an autologous cell therapy utilizing dermal sheath cup (DSC) cells to treat a common hair loss condition known as androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness).
The cell therapy product that Replicel is developing for hair loss is called RCH-01. It is poised to begin a Phase 2 trial that will enroll 160 male subjects.
RCH-01 is an autologous #celltherapy utilizing dermal sheath cup cells isolated from the hair follicle to treat androgenetic alopecia. Take a look at the development status: https://t.co/pzOLU5dD8p pic.twitter.com/Yvz9oOHKGd
— RepliCel Life Sciences Inc. (@RepliCel) February 22, 2018
In the trial, dermal sheath cup (DSC) cells will be isolated from a biopsy taken from the back of the patient’s head. Afterward, the cells will be multiplied in the lab and injected into balding areas on the patient’s scalp. Following this procedure, patient follow-up will occur over a 39 month period to assess hair volume, density, thickness, and other clinical metrics.
RCH-01 is now under clinical investigation at Tokyo Medical University Hospital and Toho University Ohasi Medical Center in Japan.
How Effective are Hair Loss Treatments?
While such hair loss treatments are still in their early stages, the initial results are promising. Not only do stem cells help restore lost hair, but because they keep dividing forever, the chance of losing more hair drops drastically. Again, while few definitive conclusions as yet exist, there are now more than 4,900 clinical trials underway exploring the effectiveness of stem cell therapy, and so far results look positive.
These studies, use approved practices to ensure quality results from which future researchers can draw ever better conclusions and refine the process.
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