August 4, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Stem cells to cure baldness: how would that work & when?

stem cells for baldness
Stem cells for baldness. Knoepfler cartoon.

Today, I would say not a single stem cell-based treatment for baldness being sold out there claiming it works seems promising and legit. (Update: see this 2019 piece on where things stand on stem cells for hair loss.)

Sad, huh?

Is there reason for hope for stem cells helping hair loss?

But there is reason for some optimism that stem cells might actually treat or cure baldness in the future…but we are talking a decade or more from now.

Baldness is not strictly about vanity. It can also be due to a medical condition, a burn injury, or a side effect of a treatment of another kind.

Many medical procedures such as radiation treatment for brain cancer or chemo as well as medical conditions such as burns or alopecia cause baldness, strongly affecting the self-esteem and quality of life of millions of patients.

Of course for the vast majority of people they simply get bald as they age and are unhappy about it.

There is reason for optimism that stem cells from the skin that make hair might be widely used for treating or even curing baldness, but again we are talking about in 10 or 20 years.

How would future stem cell procedures for baldness work?

Two main approaches seem conceptually promising.

First, there is the possibility of autologous stem cell therapy for baldness.

Second, there is a very real possibility of a drug stimulating hair growth by making the hair follicle stem cells be more active.

In the former case, research on specialized skin stem cells that can grow hair has been advancing at a rapid clip.

In stem cell-based approach for baldness, instead of moving hairs as is done today with hair transplants, doctors would transplant hair stem cells into bald regions and the stem cells would grow new hairs from scratch.

Alternatively, doctors may use some of the patient’s own stem cells to grow skin with big hairs growing out of it in a lab and then transplant those together as a tissue into balding areas of the scalp. If these technologies can be realized, stem cell-based baldness procedures could make a lot of people very happy and this may turn into a multi-billion dollar industry.

Despite claims from companies such as L’Oreal that they have baldness treatments using stem cells that work today, I have yet to see evidence that sways (or should I say combs over) my opinion that when it comes to using stem cell to treat baldness, we are definitely not there yet.
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