Bald? A team of stem cell scientists has made an advance that’s a step toward being able to regrow your own natural hair, using samples of your skin.

Hairs Grown from Epithelial Stem Cells

The black arrows in this image point to hair shafts grown from this experiment.

The scientists took adult human skin cells and transformed them into a particular type of cell that people lose when they lose their hair, called epithelial stem cells. This is the first time scientists have been able to make epithelial stem cells from adult cells. After creating the epithelial stem cells, the scientists transferred them onto the skin of mice, which then grew human skin, human hair follicles, and the beginnings of human hairs.

The whole journey from skin cell to epithelial stem cell takes, broadly, two steps. First, the scientists, a team from the University of Pennsylvania and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, transformed adult skin cells into pluripotent stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells are those powerful, early-stage stem cells that are found in developing embryos. Scientists figured out how to make them from adult cells in 2004 and have been refining their techniques since. From there, the Pennsylvania-New Jersey team guided the pluripotent stem cells into becoming epithelial stem cells by controlling when they fed the cells certain chemicals called growth factors.

What’s next? The research team’s leading scientist, dermatology researcher Xiaowei Xu, told HealthDay there’s a second type of skin cell that people lose when they lose their hair… and no one has yet discovered how to make that.

Xu and his team published their work yesterday in the journal Nature Communications.

University of Pennsylvania