Female pattern hair loss is not well understood, but a new study has helped shed light on how stem cells may be able to help treat the disorder. While both aging and family history of male or female pattern baldness can increase the likelihood of experiencing female pattern hair loss, there also appear to be hormonal contributors. Specifically, levels of male hormones, known as androgens, may change during the course of female pattern baldness. These hormonal changes could help explain why women who have undergone menopause are more likely to experience thinning of the hair.
There is currently only one drug that is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration to treat female pattern baldness. The drug, minoxidil, is a topical treatment applied to the scalp. Unfortunately, the drug does not always help with the symptoms of female pattern hair loss. Other treatment options involve replacing the hair through hair transplants, hair weaving, and hairpieces. Transplants can leave scarring and also have a risk of infection, as they require that tiny plugs of hair are removed where the hair is thicker and transplanting into the balding portions of the scalp. Transplants are also quite expensive.
Because of the limitations of the current options for those with female pattern hair loss, combined with the psychosocial impact of the disorder, researchers have focused attention on the potential promise of stem cells to help generate new hair as a potential therapy. In the current study, researchers focused on adipose tissue-derived stem cells in patients because these cells have been shown to lead to hair growth in conditions outside the body.
The researchers observed 27 patients with female pattern hair loss who were treated with adipose tissue-derived stem cells and saw that 12 weeks of therapy was sufficient to enhance hair growth in these patients. The stem cell therapy led to both thicker and denser hair. In other words, by using stem cell therapy, patients grew hairs that were themselves thicker and also grew more hairs overall.
In addition to the positive effects of stem cell therapy in improving the female pattern hair loss, no adverse side effects were observed. It is therefore likely that stem cells could be used more broadly to help patients with female pattern hair loss grow hair that is less conducive to the appearance of baldness. Future research will help to clarify how and to what extent stem cells can help with this particular type of baldness, as well as other balding disorders.
Shin, H et al. (2015). Clinical use of conditioned media of adipose tissue-derived stem cells in female pattern hair loss: A retrospective case series study. International Journal of Dermatology, 54(6), 730-735.