Alopecia, better known as hair loss, is a cosmetic problem. People do not need hair on their scalp to survive. Nonetheless, people with thinning hair or hair loss often endure considerable distress and suffering. Hair loss can cause low self-esteem, symptoms of depression, and a diminished quality of life. So while hair loss may be a simple cosmetic, strictly speaking, many people with alopecia struggle with an ongoing and serious problem.
Unfortunately, there are few effective treatments for hair loss. The two main medical treatments for hair loss are minoxidil and finasteride. Finasteride is generally only useful for male pattern baldness. Both men and women can use minoxidil, but it, too, is only partially effective. Various surgeries can be used to treat hair loss such as hair transplantation, scalp reduction, and scalp expansion, but patient satisfaction rates for these procedures are fairly low.
Stem cells that have been derived from fat tissue (i.e. adipose) secrete a number of beneficial chemicals called cytokines. These cytokines are important for wound healing and new blood vessel growth (i.e. angiogenesis). Cytokines released by adipose-derived stem cells are also able to stimulate hair follicles and induce the growth of hair. Based on these successes in the laboratory, dermatologists in Japan have used the substances secreted by adipose-derived stem cells to help people with hair loss.
Drs. Fukuoka, Narita, and Suga published a report detailing their successes in treating hair loss with proteins extracted from adipose-derived stem cells. A single hair loss treatment involves making a number of very small injections into the scalp. Each patient usually needs 6 to 8 treatment sessions, given once per month.
The doctors have performed this stem cell-based hair loss treatment on more than 1,000 patients and they have not encountered a single allergic reaction or infection. Indeed, no serious complications have occurred in their patients.
Not only is this stem cell-based hair loss treatment safe, but it is also apparently effective, as well. Patients have new growth of thin hair after two or three treatments, but this is minor and can usually only be detected by the doctors. After the fourth or fifth treatment, however, patients often notice new hair growth. By the sixth treatment, most patients can easily see new hair growth.
To confirm the effectiveness of their treatment, the doctors performed a half-side comparison test. In this test, they injected the stem cell-based hair loss treatment on one side of the scalp and injected saline on the other. The side of the scalp that received the stem cell extract had significantly more hair growth than the saline-treated side. This is strong evidence that the treatment is effective.
Reference: Fukuoka H. et al. (2017). Hair Regeneration Therapy: Application of Adipose-Derived Stem Cells. 2017;12(7):531-534.