Effective as they may be, current hair loss treatments are only really effective at preventing further balding. A lucky few may experience regrowth, but maintenance is key in the fight against hair loss. For those who’ve already lost ground, hair transplants are an option, but only a finite amount of donor hair will be available to cover balding areas. But a future hair loss treatment promises to address this problem. Hair cloning, and the similar hair multiplication, should provide an unlimited supply of new hair for hair loss sufferers. So just when will hair cloning be available?
What is hair cloning?
Hair cloning involves taking healthy hair follicle cells (dermal papillae) and multiplying them outside the body (in vitro). The multiplied cells are then re-implanted into the balding area. Once implanted, the cells should go on to become hair follicles, resulting in new and permanent hair.
And there’s no limit on how many times these cells can be multiplied.
This means, potentially, unlimited hair! Even for those at level 7 on the Norwood scale for hair loss could regain a full head of dense, thick hair, just as if androgenetic alopecia had never set in.
Current hair transplant methods are unable to promise the same level of results. With an average donor capacity of around 8000 grafts for most patients, it’s not realistic for those with extensive hair loss to expect to regain a full head of hair. Often, compromises have to be made – either in density or the overall size of the area covered.
Hair cloning would solve this problem. Not only that, it would remove the need to take anti-androgenic drugs such as finasteride and dutasteride, as the new hair would, in theory, be genetically resistant to the effects of dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
Hair cloning vs hair multiplication
A related, but distinct, potential hair loss cure is hair multiplication.
Hair multiplication also involves removing a hair follicle from the scalp and manipulating it to create more than one hair follicle. Unlike hair cloning, however, the number of new follicles created from each individual follicle is not unlimited.
Put simply, hair follicles are ‘cut’ in half, with each half going on to produce hair. The theory is that by removing some of the dermal papillae – but not all – it should be enough to form a new follicle without destroying the original one. This process could, in theory, be reproduced, creating more hair still.
In most cases, unfortunately, the cells taken from the original follicle prove insufficient to create a new follicle.
How hair cloning works
Hair follicles present a unique challenge when it comes to cloning but there have been numerous proposed methods.
One of the more successful candidates, as reported in this study, involves taking dermal sheath cells – found in the lower part of the hair follicle – and injecting them into balding areas. Interestingly, these dermal sheath cells can be transplanted from one person to another without the need for immunosuppressant drugs:
“We have shown that just a few hundred cells of follicle dermal-sheath tissue from the scalp of an adult human male was sufficient to form new dermal papillae and induce new hair follicles in the skin of a genetically unrelated female.”
The study goes on to report:
“Our results show that follicle dermal cells from a human adult can initiate epithelial-mesenchymal interactions and create new follicles without being rejected. This mini-organ morphogenesis shows how adult cells with inductive properties might be used in tissue and organ engineering and, more immediately, might be used in new treatments for hair loss.“
The dermal sheath cells would be collected from remaining, healthy, hair on the back and sides of the head. These cells could then, in theory, be multiplied in a petri dish. This would mean patients would be able to regrow as much hair as they wish.
There is some debate, however, as to how effective dermal sheath cells are in the hair cloning process. For one, they are difficult to isolate. Second, other follicular components may produce better results.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge, though, is achieving consistent results. With cell implantation, there’s no guarantee that hair will be the correct colour, texture, or even grow in the right direction! There are also concerns that the newly injected cells will de-differentiate and thus lose any characteristics of hair altogether.
Despite the challenges, research into hair cloning techniques has received plenty of attention – and funding – in recent years.
One of the first companies to recognise the potential of hair cloning was UK company Intercytex. Their research showed promise – reaching a phase 3 FDA trial – but in 2008 the company announced that the therapy was a failure.
Japanese company Aderans was a similar story. Despite showing initial promise, the company announced in 2013 that it would stop funding its hair cloning research.
But Replicel is showing far greater promise. Its RCH-01 product uses a similar method to that described above:
“Dermal sheath cup cells will be isolated from a small punch biopsy taken from the back of the subject’s scalp. These cells will be replicated and then reintroduced into balding areas on the subjects scalp.”
Currently, Replicel is waiting to start Phase 2 trials.
So, when will hair cloning be available?
Not for a long time yet!
Given the failures of Aderans and Intercytex, there’s reason to be cautious regarding any claims that hair cloning will be available before 2020.
Organ cloning and stem cell research are in their infancy. And while hair cloning may sound simple in theory, there are often unexpected complications with any new medical technology.
Nevertheless, research is ongoing. Lessons are being learned and each day we’re getting closer to a cure that will transform people from Norwood 7 to full head of hair again.
And hair cloning is just one of many avenues being explored.
Keep following Top Hair Loss Treatments to find out about the latest advances in hair loss research. Even if hair cloning isn’t it, there’s every reason for cautious optimism about an imminent cure – or at least better treatments.