A team of researchers at Columbia University has come up with a unique method to grow human hair follicles by making use of 3D printed molds. This is the first time that human hair follicle cells have been synthesized in a lab and has paved a way of creating an unlimited source of hair follicle cells for hair restoration surgical procedures.
Hair transplant surgery has evolved at quite a fast pace recently. It is becoming more and more successful and sophisticated but has had one drawback; it relies on hair follicles being redistributed from one part of the body to another. The growth of synthetic human hair follicles has proven challenging and elusive so far, thus greatly limiting the effectiveness of hair restoration surgery. The results are even more severe for patients who don’t have hair present that can be grafted.
The recent breakthrough has been made possible because of different technologies; The first innovation came in the form of making use of unique plastic mold thanks to 3D printing. These molds are designed to mimic the natural micro-environment, stimulating hair follicle growth via tiny extensions that are about half a millimeter wide. Erbil Abaci, the first author on the study, said, ‘Previous fabrication techniques have been unable to create such thin projections, so this work was greatly facilitated by innovations in 3D printing technology.’
The second innovation comes in the form of discovery of a cocktail of novel growth factors that can stimulate hair growth quite effectively. Once human skin had been grown around the 3D printed mold, the researchers seeded the contraption using hair follicle cells from volunteers. The researchers made use of a molecule that was specifically designed to inhibit a pathway that is known as JAK-STAT. As per research, this pathway was recently discovered, and it is this pathway that keeps the hair stem cells dormant. So, by inhibiting this pathway; researchers can kickstart the growth of hair follicles.
The complete process, as claimed by the research team, is capable of growing hair follicles at a rate that would provide an unlimited supply of follicles without needing any hair grafts from donors. Angela Christiano, the lead author on the research, said, ‘What we’ve shown is that we can basically create a hair farm: a grid of hairs that are patterned correctly and engineered so they can be transplanted back into that same patient’s scalp.’
Christiano further added, ‘[The new method] expands the availability of hair restoration to all patients–including the 30 million women in the United States who experience hair thinning and young men whose hairlines are still receding. Hair restoration surgery would no longer be limited by the number of donor’s hairs.’
The JAK inhibitor research has been published in the journal Cell Stem Cell while the 3D-printed mold research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.