Many people around the world experience hair loss in one form or another, either due to natural causes or as a side effect of medication. In many of these cases — especially in individuals with natural hair loss — the process is irreversible. Hair loss can usually have a significant effect on the self-image and quality of life of both women and men, as most cultures place a lot of importance on natural hair.
Despite this, treatment options for people with hair loss can be hit-and-miss, and some individuals may require more targeted interventions, such as a hair transplant. Hair transplant procedures involve the transplantation of hair follicles from one part of a person’s body to another.
However, researchers at Columbia University have now found a more sustainable way for hair regrowth. By using 3D printing technology to simulate human scalp skin scientist were able to allow new human hairs to grow. They can then transplant the new hair to the scalp of people experiencing hair loss. Some recent research has focused on using stem cells to grow new, natural human hair, but the experiments have relied on using mouse skin as the planting ground’ for these cells.
The new method uses 3D printing in place of mouse skin The researchers explain that their successful experiment was a first in more than one way. Scientists have been able to grow rat and mouse hairs independently in the lab, but they have been having trouble achieving the same with human hairs. To stimulate the growth of new hair in the lab the researchers created an environment similar to that which human hair cells naturally occupy. After several attempts they found that through 3D printing they could create the ideal microenvironment that resembled the natural environment of human hair follicles. Next, the researchers managed to get human skin to grow around the mold. They placed hair follicle cells that they had collected from volunteers inside it, adding keratin-producing cells on top.
Finally, they stimulated growth by adding in various growth factors. This assay was successful — in no more than 3 weeks, the cells generated human hair follicles that were able to start growing hair. The researchers caution that this process is still far from perfect. Nevertheless, it has the potential to establish a sustainable source of natural hair for transplants and to provide hair to any person who may need it.