Scientists have, for the first time, induced skin cells to produce hair through tissue culture. This may bring hope to millions of men and women suffering from age or sex related baldness.

In mice, dermal cells, surrounding hair follicles, can be grown in laboratories to make more cells, when these are put back in the animal, new hair follicles grow.

Till now, this did not happen with human cells. The only methods to combat baldness have been drugs to slow hair fall, numerous hair oils which we will never know if they work and transplanting hair from one part of the body to another with varying results.

In this study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently, scientist Angela Christiano and her team at Columbia University, USA, took dermal papillae cells from human skin of seven volunteers and grew hair from them in tissue culture.

Blood vessels in the dermal papillae nourish hair follicles, the organs that produce hair and also carry nutrients and oxygen to the lower layers of skin cells. The dermal papillae were mixed with liquid and dispersed in a technique called 3D tissue culture, where the cells could touch each other from any side as they were all floating together in a droplet, unlike in a flat petri dish where the cells can only touch side to side. New follicles grew and when these human cells were transplanted on the back of mice, hairy patches grew.

Dr Dipshikha Chakravortty of Molecular and Cell Biology Department at Indian Institute of Science, said, “The hanging drop technique used to create the spheroids of the dermal papillae is unique and simple. This technique could lead to a cure for baldness in the near future. “

“The fact that only the spheroids could induce hair follicle growth opens up new research areas. Spheroid cultures can be scaled up which will take care of large areas of baldness. Yet, a question remains about the receptivity of these spheroids in human subjects for a variety of reasons,” she added

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