Bald is beautiful — if you're Dwayne Johnson, Daddy Warbucks or a newborn baby. But if you're among the 50 million men and 30 million women in the United States experiencing complete or partial loss of hair, the condition, can cause feelings ranging from embarrassment to great concern.
Throughout history, hair has been an important factor in the self-image human beings have of themselves and of the image they present to others. For men a healthy head of hair connotes vigor and virility; for women it represents femininity and beauty. Conversely, the loss of hair can greatly alter those impressions.
Yet today there is increasing hope that the growth of human hair may soon be possible, thanks to some laboratory mice — and a number of researchers who believe in the magic of stem cells.
Dr. Cheng-Ming Chuong, professor of pathology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, is the senior investigator of a study published by the Stem Cell Laboratory of the University of Southern California at Los Angeles. He and his team of researchers are discovering a means by which hair follicles can be grown from skin cells reproduced in vitro in the lab. The study was funded principally by the National Institutes of Health and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In it, researchers outline a step-by-step sequence of events in the production of hair follicles from skin. Specifically, they were able to generate hair by uncovering the major molecular events necessary for the growth of skin and fostering it in adult shaved mice.
"Many aging individuals do not grow hair well, because adult cells lose their regenerative ability. But with our new findings, we are able to make adult mouse cells produce hair again," says Dr. Chuong.
Researchers at the USC lab could not confirm exactly when human trials could begin but were optimistic their findings could inspire a method for treating humans with alopecia and baldness in the near future by using some of the patient's own stem cells to grow skin with hair follicles in a lab, then transplanting it onto balding areas of the scalp.