In June 2019, a potential cure for baldness was presented at the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) conference in Los Angeles. Scientists explained how they were able to grow hair on hairless rats using human stem cells (pictured below with a fluorescent microscopy image of hair follicles under the skin inset right). Dr. Richard Chaffoo, triple board-certified plastic surgeon and hair loss treatment specialist in San Diego, is directly involved in this exciting research.
Hair Transplant Is Limited by the Patient’s Supply of Hair Follicles
Although today’s available hair transplant options can provide improvements for many hair loss sufferers, there are no therapies that can create brand-new hair follicles and expand the supply of hair. That may change soon. A new supply source of hair follicles would revolutionize the treatment options for people suffering from hair loss and open the possibility of full hair restoration regardless of the degree of hair loss.
Advantages of Cell Therapies Over Traditional Medicine
Scientific advances over the last decade have made cell-based therapies possible, thus opening a potential path to generate de novo hair follicles – a new supply. Cell therapies differ from traditional medicine in that they use living cells, rather than a drug molecule, to treat the target condition. Cell therapies are most often derived from special stem cells. These stem cells have the following 3 important properties offering therapeutic value:
- The power to be “programmed” to perform a specific purpose inside the human body
- The power to differentiate into any cell type in the human body, thus offering a new source of the cell type needed for a specific medical condition
- The power to proliferate and regenerate lost or damaged tissue and organs
These 3 unique capabilities give cell therapies the potential to treat a broad range of diseases and injuries. For example, the power to be “programmed” for specific purposes is being used to develop special immune cells programmed to target and kill cancer tumors. The power to differentiate into any cell type is being used to generate new pancreatic islet cells to treat type 1 diabetes. The power to proliferate and regenerate is being used to create new spinal cord cells to heal damaged spines. And these capabilities also open the path for a cell therapy that can generate new hair.
A Viable Solution for Hair Loss: Stem Cells
Stemson Therapeutics was formed in 2018 to develop a cell therapy solution targeting hair loss. Stemson’s stem cell technology was created at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute by Stemson co-founder Dr. Alexey Terskikh, a renowned cell biologist and regenerative medicine scientist. Fresh hair follicle donations from San Diego hair restoration specialist Dr. Richard Chaffoo and his patients played a vital role in supporting Dr. Terskikh’s basic research to develop the solution.
After Dr. Terskikh achieved critical milestones demonstrating a viable solution for hair loss, Stemson Therapeutics was created to commercialize the cell therapy. Dr. Chaffoo serves as a medical advisor and medical director for the company. Stemson’s solution uses induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) to recreate the 2 cell types required to generate a hair follicle: dermal papilla (DP) cells and epithelial stem (EpS) cells. iPSC have the power to proliferate indefinitely and to become any cell type in the human body.
Dr. Terskikh was the first to determine how to differentiate iPSC into the DP and EpS cells required for hair growth. The DP and EpS cells work together to initiate hair follicle formation and grow the hair shaft. The solution has shown tremendous promise by successfully growing de novo human hair follicles in animals using the iPSC-derived DP and EpS cells created in the lab. Stemson is planning human clinical trials within the next few years with a goal to release a cell therapy that will provide an unlimited supply of new hair follicle to patients. Additional information about this groudbreaking research is available in an additional blog post. For more information on Stemson Therapeutics, visit their website at www.stemsontx.com.
Additional breakthroughs in hair restoration are described in this video from Columbia University:
To learn about hair restoration options available today, contact us online or call La Jolla Plastic Surgery & Dermatology at (858) 256-4774. Review Dr. Chaffoo’s hair transplant results using current techniques in his online photo gallery .