The research was published in Science Advances and was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.
What is the treatment exactly about?
The research team has explained that hair growth depends on the health of dermal papillae (DP) cells. These cells control the hair follicle growth cycle. However, recent studies have revealed that hair follicles don't disappear where balding occurs. In fact, they simply shrink because of a reduction in blood flow.
The team believed that with this new treatment they can replenish those shrinking dermal papillae (DP) cells and hence recover those follicles, thereby aiding hair reproduction again.
In their innovative study, the researchers observed mouse models of hair regeneration and investigated how fast hair regrew on the subjects treated with 2D cultured DP cells, 3D spheroid-cultured DP cells in a keratin scaffolding, and the hair loss treatment Minoxidil. A spheroid is a three-dimensional structure that imitates a cell's environment.
The findings showed that mice treated with the 3D spheroid-cultured DP had regained 90% of their hair in just 15 days.
"The 3D cells in a keratin scaffold performed best, as the spheroid mimics the hair microenvironment and the keratin scaffold acts as an anchor to keep them at the site where they are needed," said Ke Cheng, Randall B. Terry, Jr. Distinguished Professor in Regenerative Medicine at NC State's College of Veterinary Medicine and professor in the NC State/UNC Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering.
"But we were also interested in how DP cells regulate the follicle growth process, so we looked at the exosomes, specifically, exosomal miRNAs from that microenvironment."
Exosomes are little sacs secreted by cells that play a crucial part in cell to cell communication. They are comprised of miRNAs that help in regulating gene expression. Cheng and his team measured miRNAs in exosomes acquired from both 3D and 2D DP cells.
They discovered that the molecular pathway responsible for creating hair follicle growth could be encouraged. More importantly, though, they found that increasing miR-218-5p promoted hair follicle growth while decreasing it led to the follicles to lose function.
A hopeful step for hair regeneration?
According to the team, cell therapy with the 3D cells could be an effective treatment for baldness. However, one would have to grow, expand, preserve, and inject those cells into the area. “MiRNAs, on the other hand, can be utilized in small molecule-based drugs. So potentially you could create a cream or lotion that has a similar effect with many fewer problems,” Cheng said.
Future studies will now focus on using just this miRNA to promote hair growth. This is indeed a positive and hopeful step towards proper hair regeneration that could help millions of people. Hopefully, these future studies can expand on this research and help develop an effective hair regrowth drug or cream.
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