Dr. Nicole Rogers Feature in Huffington Post Article on Stem Cells Research

hair stem cellsDr. Rogers spoke with the Huffington Post about new developments in the realm of stem cell replication. Researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., showed that stem cells derived from human skin can be used to grow hair--at least in mice. Although stem cell replication has undergone fits and starts, this would be an exciting new development because it would allow for an unlimited number of hairs to be produced. No longer would hair transplant surgery be limited by the number of permanent donor follicles available on a given hair transplant candidate.

The scientists, working at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., showed that stem cells derived from human skin can be used to grow hair—at least in mice.

“The method is a marked improvement over current methods that rely on transplanting existing hair follicles from one part of the head to another,” Dr. Alexey Terskikh, an associate professor at the institute and a member of the team of researchers who demonstrated the experimental technique, said in a written statement. “Our stem cell method provides an unlimited source of cells from the patient for transplantation and isn’t limited by the availability of existing hair follicles.”

In other words, unlike conventional hair transplantation and other hair restoration treatments now in use, the technique could—at least in theory—grow lots of hair on the heads of men and women who are completely bald.

That would be a very big deal.

“If this approach is proven to work in humans, it will change existing treatments radically,” Dr. Nicole Rogers, a dermatologist and hair transplant surgeon in New Orleans, told The Huffington Post in an email.

Dr. Marie Jhin, a dermatologist in San Francisco and an adjunct clinical instructor at Stanford University, echoed that assessment. If the treatment pans out, she told HuffPost Science in an email, it “absolutely would be a breakthrough.”

But Rogers said there have been many “fits and starts” over the years as researchers have worked on other promising hair-restoration techniques, adding that the Sanford-Burnham researchers face many challenges—including replicating their results in large-scale human trials.

The technique exploits the ability of human pluripotent stem cells to turn into almost any other cells in the body. Terskikh and his collaborators turned these cells into the dermal papilla cells that regulate the formation and growth of hair follicles, and showed that these grew hair when injected into mice.

Human dermal papilla cells are unsuitable for conventional hair transplants because they cannot be obtained in necessary numbers and they quickly lose their hair-growing potency, according to the statement.

Terskikh wouldn’t hazard a guess as to when, if ever, the experimental technique might be available for use in humans. The next step, he said, would be to find a partner to fund future research.