Androgenic alopecia, more commonly known as pattern hair loss or pattern baldness, is an extremely common form of hair loss. Four out of 5 men and 2 out of 5 women under the age of 70 have hair loss due to androgenic alopecia (aka androgenetic alopecia). While this form of hair loss is not deadly, or even dangerous, it can cause substantial amounts of personal suffering, low self-esteem, and diminished quality of life. Indeed, most people with androgenic alopecia or pattern hair loss would much rather stop their hair loss and cure their baldness. Here we talk about stem cell therapy for hair loss.
Unfortunately, there are few effective treatments for androgenic alopecia. Patients may choose to use topical medication, minoxidil. Men can use the drug finasteride. Neither of these agents is very effective for many people who try them. Some patients with pattern baldness opt for surgery. Surgical hair loss treatment can be helpful for men who have receding hairlines, but it is of little to no use in patients with diffusely thinning hair, which is most often the case in women affected by androgenic alopecia.
Scientists have turned to stem cell therapy for hair loss for a few reasons. First, the current medical and surgical treatment options are largely ineffective. Second, stem cell treatment has been shown to be safe in many scientific and clinical studies. Third and perhaps most importantly, androgenic alopecia is caused, in part, by problems with natural stem cell function. Immune cells (lymphocytes and mast cells) can be found in the area around each hair follicle, specifically in the “knot zone” which is where most hair follicle stem cells reside. These immune cells and hormonal factors likely interfere with hair follicle stem cell function—the number of hair follicle stem cells stays the same in pattern baldness, but the ability of progenitor cells to multiply is greatly reduced. Natural stem cells in people with androgenic alopecia do not produce the same levels of substances that support hair growth and renewal. In short, patients with pattern baldness may benefit from stem cell treatment.
Researchers are strenuously pursuing this line of research. One promising approach is to apply stem cells (fat and stromal vascular fraction cells) directly to the balding areas of the scalp. For example, Dr. Shin and colleagues used stem cells on 27 women with pattern baldness and showed increased hair thickness and density 12 weeks after treatment. Another approach is to use exosomes from these stem cells to treat hair loss. Exosomes are released by stem cells, contain virtually all the beneficial molecules that stem cells produce and can be applied to the scalp without surgery.
The field of stem
cell treatment for pattern hair loss is growing rapidly. As more clinical
trials are published, we move closer to a time in with stem cell and stem cell
exosome treatment for androgenic alopecia becomes a reality.
Androgenetic alopecia is the medical term for pattern baldness. Pattern baldness can manifest in several ways such as a receding hairline, a bald spot in the crown of the head, and/or generalized thinning hair. Pattern baldness is the most common form of hair loss. Approximately 4 out of 5 men will experience some degree of androgenetic alopecia by the time they reach age 70. Androgenetic alopecia affects a substantial number of women as well. Pattern baldness is not lethal, but it can create substantial amounts of psychological suffering and greatly diminishes the quality of life for both men and women.
The two first-line treatments for androgenetic alopecia in men are finasteride or minoxidil. Finasteride is an oral medication, while minoxidil is topical, i.e. it is placed on this directly on the scalp. These baldness treatments are modestly effective in a certain percentage of men. Patients may also be treated with dutasteride, light therapy, platelet-rich therapy, or surgery. Minoxidil is the main form of treatment for women with androgenetic alopecia. If minoxidil fails to help regrow hair or stop the balding process, women may alternate treatments including spironolactone, finasteride, cyproterone acetate, or flutamide. As with male pattern baldness, female pattern baldness is somewhat resistant to treatment, leaving most women to cover their baldness with wigs or concealers.
One important observation about androgenetic alopecia is that while the number of hair follicle stem cells remains the same in people who are balding, the number of more actively proliferating progenitor cells drops dramatically. In other words, it is theoretically possible to treat androgenetic alopecia with hair follicle stem cells that contain actively proliferating progenitor cells.
Indeed, researchers recently tested this hypothesis in a group of 11 patients with androgenetic alopecia. The researchers collected a bit of tissue from each patient and then purified the sample to collect hair follicle stem cells with actively proliferating progenitor cells. The doctors then injected those stem cells into balding areas on the patients’ scalps. For comparison, some were treated with a placebo injection, i.e. saltwater.
Patients treated with hair follicle stem cells enjoyed a 29% increase in hair density over the treated area. by contrast. Patients treated with placebo had less than a 1% increase in her density over the same time period. The researchers also noticed that they were substantially more stem cells in and around hair follicles in balding areas.
The authors of this research concluded that isolated cells are capable of improving hair density in patients with androgenetic alopecia. While additional, larger studies are needed to confirm these results, the current study provides strong evidence that bald and balding patients may benefit from autologous stem cell treatment.
Reference: Gentile P. et al. (2017). Stem cells from human hair follicles: first mechanical isolation for immediate autologous clinical use in androgenetic alopecia and hair loss. Stem Cell Investigation. 2017 Jun 27;4:58.
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.
Learn more about five main benefits of stem cell therapy here.
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