Looking at stem cells as a cure for baldness is hardly new, but being able to bio-engineer a hair follicle from one’s own DNA would represent a significant new breakthrough – but that’s exactly what a team of researchers in genetic regenerative medicine and bio-engineering at Tokyo University have done.
Asakawa K, Toyoshima KE, Ishibashi N, Tobe H, Iwadate A, Kanayama T, Hasegawa T, Nakao K, Toki H, Noguchi S, Ogawa M, Sato A, & Tsuji T published work in Nature last May, 2012, demonstrating a technique whereby they’ve been able to bio-engineer functional hair follicles that exhibit a normal growth cycle from stem cells taken from existing hair follicles.
To demonstrate that the bio-engineered hair follicles functioned like real hair follicles, they employed a widely used hair transplant technique called follicle unit transplantation, or FUT, to transplant these bio-engineered hair follicles into the scalp of mice. Not only did the transplanted hair follicles exhibit the normal growth cycle of hair follicles, they also grew the correct type of hair and at the correct orientation as a function of the transplanted location.
In short, we can now, in principle, bio-engineer our own fully functional hair follicles based on our own DNA. When asked how soon a practical hair replacement treatment could come out of this work, the research team said they hoped clinical trials could begin within three to five years, and, if that happens, they think a practical bio-engineered based surgical hair replacement treatment procedure could exist within a decade.