Stem Cell Research Is Promising As a Hair Loss Treatment
With stem cell research, researchers study cellular regeneration therapy using a patient’s own platelet-rich plasma on the basis of wound-healing principals to treat hair loss.
Those with alopecia areata are first to see success
“We are about 40 patients into the study, but one of our patients was so thrilled that his hair started growing in after about 2 months that he alerted the local media -- and then we had to tell our story!” says Dr. John Satino, clinic director for The Hair and Scalp Clinics in Clearwater, Fla. Satino and partner and medical director Dr. Michael Markou, a primary investigator for the Merck Pharmaceutical clinical research on Propecia, have run and administered some interesting tests and documented success with alopecia areata patients in regrowing hair in a patient’s bald patches. Currently they are taking on test patients and beginning to document and test the long-term effects of this treatment to test its viability as a long-term solution for hair loss. “The advantage is that we are seeing hair growth in bald areas. The disadvantage so far is that if a pattern of baldness exists down the road, the new growth can be affected by that. So far we are seeing the greatest benefit in young people suffering from alopecia areata.”
How the stem cell study procedure works
The term "stem cells" is used loosely. According to the National Institutes of Health Web site information on stem cell research, an adult stem cell is a type of cell found in many organs that can transform itself into a specialized tissue or organ cell when necessary. The primary role of adult stem cells in a living organism is to maintain and repair the tissue in which they are found. Scientists have found adult stem cells in many more tissues than they once thought possible, and that has led researchers and clinicians to ask whether adult stem cells could be used for transplants like the adult blood-forming stem cells from bone marrow that have been used in transplants for 40 years. Scientists now have evidence that stem cells exist in the brain and the heart. If the differentiation of adult stem cells can be controlled in the laboratory, these cells may become the basis of transplantation-based therapies. But the isolation and identification of these stem cells throughout the human body is still in its infancy.
What this study procedure is using is actually platelet-rich plasma (PRP) isolated from the patient’s own blood, explains Satino, not only the clinic director but also a biomedical engineer who has demonstrated and performed many studies, including those of Propecia and Rogaine. “The idea of this way of stimulating follicle regeneration is based on the principals of wound healing … a sort of cellular regeneration therapy.” Satino explains that when an area like the scalp is disturbed slightly, such as by abrading it gently with a laser, it shocks the body into healing mode, and when combined with the person’s own growth factors in PRP drawn from his or her own blood, it can stimulate the faulty follicles into an anagen phase of growth and give them the support they need to grow. “First we draw patient’s blood to separate out the small amount of PRP which contains platelet-derived growth factors, including three proteins that act in cell adhesion. These three -- called fibrin, fibronectin and vitronectin – create a matrix for cells to build upon, while the growth factors signal the epidermis and the follicle to interact with the dermal sheath. We then irritate the scalp with a laser, which moves the follicle toward an anagen phase as it tries to heal, and we inject the growth factors in the PRP, which migrate into the follicles to start the whole process. This promotes angiogenesis and mitogenesis … a sort of jump start for the follicles. We know that adult stem cells only are useful wherever there is an injury and that they are not specialized. We are also testing the topical application of the person’s PRP in addition to the effects of low-light laser therapy, Rogaine and Propecia in conjunction with this new treatment to find the most effective treatment protocols.”
The outlook of stem cell research as a hair loss treatment
So far, hair in all 40 patients has grown back in patients with alopecia areata. “It seems this procedure has the best results for the younger patient. The youngest we have treated is 15 so far, but the most important thing is to test the long-term results.” Satino adds that they have also begun soaking hair transplants in PRP and injecting into transplant incisions and have gotten faster healing and thicker, faster hair regrowth in transplant patients. “But again,” cautions Satino, “we don’t know how the balding pattern may affect this procedure. For example, in a transplant patient, if the hairline recedes further, he will be required to get additional transplants to cover the new balding area. We have definitely found our new procedure to be most effective on bald patches in the crown and back of a patient’s head. A patient may still need to supplement results with Minoxidil, Propecia or laser hair therapy.”
Proving the result, getting FDA approval
So far, the procedure is approved by the FDA as a soft-tissue injection for wound healing in hair transplants, not for hair regrowth. “In the meantime, we are taking on new patients to test the procedure at about one-quarter the price of a typical transplant procedure,” Satino states. “We are documenting all the results with a cast, and we mark the spot and count the hairs in one square centimeter. We test and measure hair strength and diameter and we do a recount in three months, six months and one year along with photos to document results.” He adds, “We plan to publish results in some peer-reviewed dermatology, hair transplant and laser journals in the coming year. We have refrained from performing the double-blind placebo tests and the independent review boards until we have the funding and the basis to do so to gain FDA approval as a long-term hair loss solution.
Feedback from the hair loss treatment community
While the local news has picked up the story and the clinic is getting test patients from all over the world, Bob Rider, owner of Hair Replacement Clinic in Dayton, Ohio, who has been in the business for more than 40 years, says he wishes it could be that simple. “Growing hair where there is none existing for any reason is like growing a new organ. It’s just not at all simple.” Dr. Sara Wasserbauer, a board-certified, California-based hair transplant surgeon, adds that in the hair community, “We’re always looking for the clue to growing hair, and looking toward science and previous studies, as this study has, definitely holds some promise. But at this point, it’s too soon to tell, because there is no consistency in the results yet.”
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