Hair cloning is a new field of scientific research that is making rapid advances towards a cure for androgenic alopecia, or genetic baldness. It involves removing approximately 50 - 100 hair follicles followed by microdissection and removal of certain cells which are then multiplied in a lab. The millions of newly created cells would then be implanted in balding areas of the scalp to create new, permanent hair. In theory an unlimited supply of hair could be produced and implanted from the original 50-100 follicles. Perhaps as early as 2027 this technology is expected to become a reality, although substantial work still needs to be done in order for hair cloning to become a viable option.
When it does, current methods of hair restoration, such as follicular unit extraction and transplantation, will be replaced with the injection of active cells that act like “seeds” and grow new follicles where transplanted. However, it is unclear how these new hairs will grow in terms of direction, and other characteristics such as color, length, curl, coarseness and shape that account for a natural look. Therefore traditional FUE surgery may be used to augment highly visible areas, such as the frontal hairline, to ensure a natural appearance.
To understand hair cloning, you must first understand how hair grows and sheds. Hair naturally regenerates in a cyclical pattern that involves growth (anagen phase), transition (catagen phase), resting and shedding (telogen phase), and regeneration (return to anagen).
Stem cells at the base of the hair follicle known as dermal papilla control this regeneration process. The more stem cells, the more thick and full the hair. In the case of male and female pattern baldness, the number of dermal papilla cells is reduced during this cycle, and the subsequent hair is miniaturized (called vellus hairs). Eventually the dermal papilla cease to generate enough to cells to return the hair to the anagen phase. When this occurs there is no new hair to replace the old hair that has fallen out, and baldness results.
Hair cloning involves extracting a small number of follicular units from the head under local anesthetic, in a procedure lasting less than an hour. No visible signs of this procedure will be detectable to anyone. The follicular units are then shipped to the UK, cryopreserved and banked until needed. A fee is charged for the banking.
At a later date a few of these follicular units will be unfrozen and processed to isolate the specific cells involved in the production of the hair shaft. These cells will divide and multiply rapidly over a 3-week period. The cells would then be shipped back to the clinic and micro-injected into the balding areas of a patient’s scalp. They would then rejuvenate the thinning hairs, causing them to produce thicker terminal hair shafts and regain a more youthful appearance.
Follicle banking involves the cryopreservation of young, healthy, robust follicles for future use. This is needed because our hair cell quality decreases with age. To take full advantage of hair cloning as a future technology, the cryopreservation of one's young, robust follicular units is recommended. The small number of follicular units are preserved by cooling them down to extremely low temperatures (between -80 °C and -196 °C). At these temperatures and chemical activity such as degeneration in the cells is halted. The cells can be stored for many years. When thawed correctly they regain their original functionality.
Dr. Harris will be offering follicular unit procedures in his office to harvest the healthy donor follicles. The follicles will then be sent to Britain, where the cryopreservation facility currently exists. HairClone™ is the biotechnology company behind the research, and Dr. Harris is a clinical partner in this groundbreaking effort. Early adopters of follicle banking will be prioritized when the cloning technology becomes a viable solution to cure baldness, and will in effect be “first in line” to take advantage of it.
Note that if you are in your early 20s or younger, follicle banking may not be in your interest, because chances are you will still have an abundance of robust follicular units in 10 years time. However, if you are in your late 30s or older this may be your best option.
Dr. Harris will publish new developments on this web page and keep you informed via his newsletter, Hair Matters. To receive the Hair Matters newsletter please contact the clinic. You may also visit www.hairclone.me for more information.