Researchers grow hairy skin from human stem cells

 Dr. Jiyoon Lee (left) and Dr. Karl Koehler (right), Indiana University School of Medicine

For years the idea of being able to regrow hair has been the domain of cheesy, middle-of-the-night TV infomercials. Now two researchers may have found a way to actually make it happen, and their work could have implications far more important than helping bald men.

Building on years of research, Dr. Jiyoon Lee and Dr. Karl Koehler from the Indiana University School of Medicine were able to use human stem cells to grow hair on skin. The complex skin model was developed by using pluripotent stem cells, a kind of stem cell that can become virtually any kind of cell in the body.

To do this, Dr. Lee, Dr. Koehler, and a team of researchers incubated the human stem cells for 150 days. During this time, the cells formed a ball shaped cluster of cells called a skin organoid. The interior of the organoid is similar to the top layer of skin, known as the epidermis, and the outside is similar to the bottom layer, known as the dermis.

In a press release, Dr. Koehler describes the skin organoid and the process in more detail.

“We’ve developed a new cooking recipe for generating human skin that produces hair follicles after about 70 days in culture. When the hair follicles grow, the roots extend outward radially. It’s a bizarre-looking structure, appearing almost like a deep-sea creature with tentacles coming out from it.”

After the skin organoid was formed, the researchers tested if it could be integrated onto the skin of nude mice by performing skin grafts. The results were remarkable as more than half of the organoids that the scientists engrafted on the mice grew human hair follicles. The skin organoid developed is similar to fetal facial skin and hair.

This skin organoid model has great potential in terms of helping with drug or gene therapies for skin disorders or recreating the earliest stages of skin cancer formation.

In the same press release, Dr. Lee discusses the potential their findings have for reconstructive purposes.

“This could be a huge innovation, providing a potentially unlimited source of soft tissue and hair follicles for reconstructive surgeries.”

The full results of this study were published in Nature.

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