"Hair Cloning": Who? What? When? Where? and How?

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Patients often ask me what new hair loss treatments are around the corner.  This frequently leads us into discussions about the technique of "hair cloning."  What is hair cloning? When will it be available to the public?

Hair cloning is presently an experimental technique used to markedly increase the number of hair follicles. At present, it is being developed, and is not available as a treatment.

The picture above shows the basics of hair cloning. To envision the process, I tell patients to imagine two visits to the hair clinic. In the first visit, which might only last 30-40 minutes, the patient would have 10-50 hairs removed from the scalp. These hairs would be taken away to a laboratory where special cells in the hair follicle (called dermal papilla cells) would be extracted from the hair follicles. These cells would then be multiplied in the laboratory to become millions of cells over the next 1-2 months. At the end of the second month, the patient would be invited back to the hair clinic for a second visit where these cultured cells would be injected into the scalp using a very small needle. New hair follicles would then be generated from these cells over the next 6-9 months. 

The concept of hair cloning is tremendously exciting. Patients with advanced hair loss could potentially have the entire scalp restored with these two visits. In addition, the technique could be modified slightly to treat many hair diseases besides androgenetic alopecia.

It’s not known exactly when the technique of hair cloning will be ready to the public. Several companies are working on the technique right now, and clinical trials are underway. There have been several challenges in perfecting the technique. For example, one challenge has been ensuring cultured cells retain their ability to produce a hair follicle once they are removed from the scalp.  When these dermal papilla cells are grown in the laboratory they sometime have a tendency to become 'tired' or 'lazy' and no longer want to produce a new hair follicle. Additional challenges include making sure that hair follicles emerge from the scalp at a precise angle and direction so that the hair cloning procedure looks natural.  One can imagine that if hair follicles emerge from the scalp in a haphazard way, with some pointing left and some pointing right, or some pointing forward and some pointing back, the outcome could look strange.

I tell my patients that the technique is still many years away, but will be revolutionize the way hair loss is treated when the technique is finally perfected.

Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Whistler office at 604.283.1887

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