Last week we attended a lecture at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on the topic of hair stem cells. Dr. Robert Hoffman (speaker) is a professor at the University of California, San Diego. He and his colleagues have done several studies on hair stem cells and its application in different fields of medicine.
Dr. Hoffman’s team extracted special cells from the bulge area of hair follicles (above the lower generative center of hair) that are known to be easily accessible and a good source of actively growing, pluripotent cells (cells that have capability of differentiating to different cell lines). They found the protein markers of the neural stem cells in this group of cells (Nestin). They performed several projects to evaluate the final cell lines that could be harvested from growth and differentiation of these stem cells. Among those were using these cells to produce nervous system and blood vessel cells. In one study, Dr. Hoffman’s team applied these stem cells on mouse severed sciatic nerve. The animals that were treated have recovered from nerve injury and could resume the function of affected limb faster in comparison to the control group that never received any treatments.
Dr. Hoffman and his colleagues also performed similar study on a mouse with spinal cord injury. The animal with spinal cord injury gained the function of its paralyzed limb following application of these cells to transected part of spinal cord. The findings can bring about hope for treatment of patients with ‘fresh’ spinal cord injuries. Currently, there is no effective treatment for spinal cord injury and those patients are doomed to lose the neural function of some part of their body, commonly their lower extremities for the rest of their lives.
Although Dr. Hoffman was optimistic about application of hair stem cells in regeneration of cells in nervous system, when asked about his opinion on hair multiplication, he did not believe that it would be that easy. Dr. Hoffman believes that the necessity of interaction of this dual stem cell system (cells from bulge area and cells from dermal papilla of hair follicles that produce hair formation) makes it more complicated for producing hair with a method similar to what is described (in producing nervous system or blood vessel cells).
It is most interesting that Dr. Hoffman and many others working in this arena, find that producing the hair organ (which contains skin, hair elements, blood vessels, fat, and other supportive tissues) is far more difficult than producing just one of these elements (nerves, blood vessels). For those of you who are anxiously waiting for hair multiplication results to be available in the clinical world, I would not postpone the more standard treatment for hair loss (e.g hair transplantation), as your balding will inevitably progress as you will wait, and wait, and wait for the breakthrough that may not occur in the time frame when you can enjoy having hair on your head.