If your hair up north is heading south, you may have considered seeing a doctor to help you cover your shiny scalp or have even taken matters into your own hands. But the medications don't always work, and toupees can look fake, so what's a guy with a receding hair line to do?
A company in Britain claims to have found the answer: hair cloning. With a procedure that reproduces new hair from the healthy follicles on your head, Interytex claims to have successfully implanted cloned hair cells into five of seven patients, giving these lucky guys a full head of hair. There are, as of yet, no published results, but the company says that it is now moving on to further trials on men with male pattern baldness and even hopes to try it on women facing bare scalps from alopecia.
While it may be years before this procedure is available to the public, hair cloning is raising hope for many men—and women—with ever-receding hairlines.
"[Hair cloning] could be used in any patient, but it'll be most used in someone who doesn't have enough of his or her own hair for transplantation," says Dr. Walter Unger, clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York.
The chance to fill an almost limitless amount of scalp is what makes hair cloning so promising.
Sprouting New Locks
Today, many men turn to hair implants to cover their bald spots. And implants can look like the real thing. But as doctors remove hair follicles from where the hair is growing and implant them in spots where the hair is bare, implants in a too large bald spot make the whole head of hair look strangely sparse. That, and the length of the procedure—spanning about 16 hours in two sessions—is the reason that only two percent of men with male pattern baldness are estimated to seek out the surgery.
But the science behind hair cloning simplifies the surgery necessary for transplantation.
In the case of hereditary hair loss, as a man ages, some of his hair follicles become sensitive to the hormone dihydrotesterone (DHT), a chemical that is also partially responsible for the formation of male characteristics.
These hair follicles shrivel up and stop growing new hair. But what's not yet understood by scientists is why follicles in the back of the head never become sensitive to DHT, as hair continues growing there throughout a man's life.
To take advantage of the faithful follicles, a surgeon trained in hair cloning would remove a few hairs from the back of the head. But instead of inserting these hairs back into the top of the scalp, as in the case of transplantation, he would take them to a lab where the hairs can be broken down into individual cells and reproduced an almost infinite number of times. Those new hair cells can then be sent back to the doctor a few weeks later, where they are reinserted into the patient's scalp. In theory, the new follicles would begin to grow hair within three months.
Hair cloning would eliminate the cutting, suturing and scarring of a transplantation procedure, says Unger, and would allow for an almost limitless amount of scalp to be covered with hair.
But Unger abandoned his research on hair cloning after the results proved less-than-successful. He was only able to successfully transplant cloned follicles in four of 23 patients in two trials, and the hair only grew well in one patient.
"We can grow a millions of cells from one hair in a matter of weeks, says Unger. "We just haven't been able to get them to successfully grow in a human head."
Time will tell if experiments by Interytex prove successful, but Unger is confident that the science is there to make hair cloning a reality.
"It will be done, it's just a question of when," he says.