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'Potential cure for baldness' has North-East roots
A POTENTIAL cure for baldness which involves cloning hair cells has been developed by an international team which includes North-East scientists.
Researchers at Durham University and Columbia University Medical Center in New York, USA, have devised a method which is the first to use cloned human cells to induce hair growth, rather than moving hair from one part of the scalp to another.
The researchers said their findings could significantly expand the use of hair transplantation to women with hair loss, as well as to men in early stages of baldness.
The research could also be "an important step" in creating replacement skin with hair follicles to aid the recovery of burns patients, the scientists said.
The study is published in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Previous research by Professor Colin Jahoda at Durham University found that dermal papillae in rodents - a small, group of cells at the base of the hair follicle which play a key role in hair growth - could be easily harvested and transplanted back into rodent skin.
Spheres of cultured papillae cells from human hair follicles successfully produced new human hair when transplanted between the dermis and epidermis of human skin. Image: Claire Higgins/Christiano Lab at Columbia University Medical Center
Unlike human dermal papillae, rodent papillae tend to spontaneously clump together, helped them to reprogramme the recipient skin to grow new follicles.
Lead scientist Dr Claire Higgins, a Durham University graduate, now at CUMC, suspected that the same conditions could be created to induce hair growth in human skin.
To test this theory, researchers at CUMC harvested dermal papillae from seven human donors and cloned the cells.
After a few days, the cultured papillae were transplanted between layers of human skin that had been grafted onto the backs of mice.
In five of the seven tests, the transplants resulted in new hair growth that lasted at least six weeks.
DNA analysis confirmed that the new hair follicles were human and genetically matched the donors.
More work needs to be done before the method can be tested in humans, but the team is optimistic that clinical trials could begin soon.
Study co-author Professor Colin Jahoda, from Durham University, said: "Ultimately we think that this study is an important step toward the goal of creating a replacement skin that contains hair follicles for use with, for example, burn patients."
Dr Angela Christian, from CUMC, said the research "has the potential to transform the medical treatment of hair loss".
The study was funded in the UK by the Medical Research Council.
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