[ Watch the Video: Bald Men May One Day Get Help From Stem Cells ]
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
While a Chinese cream may not have cured George Costanza’s baldness in a classic Seinfeld episode, stem cell research from scientists at the University of Pennsylvania has shown the potential for regenerating hair follicles – which could lead to relief for hair-challenged men everywhere.
According to a new report published in the journal Nature Communications, the Pennsylvania researchers have developed a groundbreaking method for converting adult cells into epithelial stem cells (EpSCs). Similar previous efforts have failed to generate an adequate number of hair-follicle-generating stem cells.
In the study, epithelial stem cells were inserted into immunocompromised mice. The stem cells regenerated the various cell types for human skin and hair follicles, and provided structurally identifiable hair shafts, raising the possibility of hair regeneration in humans.
The study team began with human skin cells referred to as dermal fibroblasts. By incorporating three genes, they modified those cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which have the capacity to differentiate into any cell types in the human body. Next, they modified the iPS cells into epithelial stem cells, commonly located at the base of hair follicles.
Starting with procedures other research groups had worked out to transfer iPSCs into skin cells, Xu’s team figured out that by carefully manipulating the timing of the cell growth factors, they could drive the iPSCs to produce large quantities of epithelial stem cells. This method was able to turn more than 25 percent of the iPSCs into epithelial stem cells within 18 days. Those cells were then purified based on the proteins they showed on their surfaces.
Comparison of the engineered cells with epithelial stem tissue obtained from hair follicles revealed the team succeeded in making the cells they set out to produce. After mixing all those cells with mouse follicular inductive dermal cells and attaching them onto the pores and skin of immunodeficient mice, the team was able to produce efficient outer layers of human skin tissue and follicles structurally similar to those generated by human hair.
“This is the first time anyone has made scalable amounts of epithelial stem cells that are capable of generating the epithelial component of hair follicles,” said study author Dr. Xiaowei “George” Xu, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and dermatology at the university. He added that these cells could be used for healing, cosmetics and hair regeneration.
Xu cautioned that iPSC-derived epithelial stem cells are not yet ready for human subjects.
“When a person loses hair, they lose (two) types of cells.” Xu said. “We have solved one major problem, the epithelial component of the hair follicle. We need to figure out a way to also make new dermal papillae cells, and no one has figured that part out yet.”
Dermal papillae are small extensions of the dermis into the epidermis. They appear as ridges on the skin and are most commonly known as the ridges that make up fingerprints.
Xu also noted that the process his team used to create iPSCs involves genetic alterations to human cells with genes encoding proteins linked to cancer, and therefore needs refinement. He said stem-cell researchers are currently working on solutions, including methods using only chemical agents.