Are we witnessing a new dawn for hair-loss treatments? There has been a sudden spike in demand over the past year, says Coen Gho, founder of the Hair Science Institute, one of the world’s leading hair transplantation clinics with a centre in London, and multiple locations around the globe.

Gho says that people in their 20s and 30s are more conscious about their appearance than ever, partly, he thinks, because of the trend towards getting married and settling down much later than in previous decades.

But this surge in demand for hair-loss treatments is also helping to foster new ideas. Gho has pioneered a technique called partial longitudinal follicular unit extraction.

Most transplants remove entire hair follicles from ‘donor areas’ at the back and sides of the scalp, and relocate them to bald patches, but the main downside is that this incurs a risk of scarring, as well as leaving the donor areas relatively sparse.

The success rate from one transplant to another can also vary substantially. Gho’s method attempts to avoid the issues of scarring and thinning by only using part of the follicle.

"Right now, a typical treatment involves taking grafts from 1,400 hair follicles, which means 3,000 new hairs," says Gho. "Can you imagine what we can achieve if we could use those same grafts to generate 10,000 hairs? This is very important as right now, the big hurdle in hair transplants for women is creating sufficient density."

Gho has just gained approval to test the technique on female patients. If all goes well, he hopes that it may be possible to offer this as a treatment in the next four to five years.

However, Gho’s is not the only new technique. Earlier this year, researchers at the Riken research institute in Japan found a way to increase human hair follicle stem cells by 100-fold in the lab, a breakthrough that was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

In the future, this could enable scientists to extract hair from donor areas of the scalp, and use that to grow an entire new head of hair in a dish, which would then be transplanted to the patient. However, the technique is not yet ready for the clinic, as it has so far only been performed in a petri dish, and in mice.

"As soon as we can get the funding, a clinical study could be started, and a pay-to-participate clinical programme could begin within two years in Japan," says Tsuji.

But hair transplants still hold some disadvantages. Ke Cheng, a professor of regenerative medicine at North Carolina State University, points out that the procedures are invasive, and can involve an element of discomfort, while not all the transplanted hairs are guaranteed to survive.

An alternative to hair transplantation that has gained traction in recent years is platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, a three-step treatment process in which the patient’s blood is drawn so that platelet concentrations can be extracted and then re-injected into the scalp.

A number of studies have found that PRP can reduce hair loss, as well as increasing both the diameter and density of hairs. However, this is not a cure and maintenance injections tend to be recommended every three to six months, which can make it an expensive long-term solution. Side effects, ranging from headache to scalp tenderness, have also been reported.

Instead, Cheng is investigating another potential injectable therapy using exosomes; tiny, fluid-filled sacs that are secreted by all cells, including those in hair. So far, Cheng has tested this approach in mice and found that it can achieve a six to seven-fold increase in hair growth compared with traditional hair-loss drugs such as minoxidil. He is now conducting experiments to determine whether the same results can be achieved in human hair cells in the lab.

The Daily Telegraph

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