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Hair Replacement Sector Looks to Cloning

June 2, 2008

A new technique known as “follicular cell implantation” could bring promising results for millions of men and women who suffer from premature baldness.

Backed by a £1.9 million (roughly $3 million) government grant, the experimental process being carried out in Britain has already shown positive results in clinical trials on humans.

Most recently, the Phase II trial results were presented at the Italian Society of Hair Restoration Surgery conference in Rome, Italy. Their findings showed that the technique can increase hair count in at least two thirds of patients after six months. Additionally, four out of five can regrow hair if the scalp is stimulated before the process by gentle abrasions that encourage hair growth.

The procedure is being developed by Intercytex, a British company based in Manchester, which is among many companies competing to find a cure for hair loss that affects 40 percent of men over 50. The technique works by extracting dermal papilla cells ““ the basic cells responsible for hair growth ““ from the back of the scalp. These cells are then multiplied many times over in a special patented culture before being injected back into the scalp in their millions.

Intercytex researchers say that the procedure could require more than 1,000 tiny injections to produce that number of hairs in extensively bald patients but it will be quicker and less invasive than current hair transplant techniques.

Interest in hair-growth continues to increase as about 3,000 such procedures take place at private clinics in Britain each year. Current hair transplants involve large clumps of follicles being cut from the back of the head under local anesthetic and separated into individual strands before being transplanted on top of the pate in their thousands.

Bessam Farjo is leading the research. A hair-loss specialist and president of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, Farjo said that hat results after six months were now available for 11 patients out of 19 currently enrolled on the trial.

Four out of five participants whose scalp had been stimulated had an increased hair count, Farjo said, while three out of six had also noticed improvement without scalp stimulation.

We can take a small sample from the back of the head, extract the dermal papilla [DP] cells and then use a patented method of multiplying these basic cells of extracted hairs in the lab,” he said. “Within eight weeks they are capable of generating literally millions of themselves, meaning that only around 100 hairs are needed in order to produce thousands of new hairs.”

Researchers from the US, Italy and Japan are also exploring the possibility of cloning hair, including techniques designed to extract stem cells from the base of the hair follicles.

But Dr Farjo, who runs the Farjo Medical Centres in London and Manchester, said he was confident that the Intercytex approach was the most advanced and regulated clinical trial for hair loss anywhere in the world. The full results of the 48-week study will be available next year.

“For many men and women the consequences of hair loss can be devastating ““ whether brought on by pattern baldness or as a result of cancer treatment such as radiotherapy,” Farjo said.

“There are some effective nonsurgical treatments that can slow down the process but these involve taking daily pills. For those with more significant hair loss one to two operations per bald area can give a natural looking head of hair of reasonable density.”

A process that adds DP cells with keratinocytes, which produce the basic building material of hair, is also underway. This could allow patients to grow actual hair for transplant rather than injectable cells.

“Hair surgeons and their patients have been waiting for something like this since the 1980s, but in my view it may be as little as five years before patients start seeing the benefits.”

Connor Kiely, a hair restoration surgeon based in Ireland, said: “The possibilities thrown up by this research are very exciting, and we have been waiting for a long time for a solution like this that will deal with the problem at source, rather than simply relocating hair from one place to another.”

“We don’t yet know what the cost of these injections would be, but if they were made available they could also be a useful treatment for women whose hair typically becomes extremely thin all over the head, said Marilyn Sherlock, chairman of the Institute of Trichologists.

“This could allow a lot more people to opt for hair restoration who currently might previously not have considered having anything done.”

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