The basic concept behind hair cloning is that healthy hair follicle cells can be extracted from a man’s scalp in areas without hair loss, as is done in hair transplantation; and then multiplied (or cloned) through laboratory culturing.
These can then be injected back into the individual’s scalp in areas experiencing hair loss to produce healthy hair.
Over the past 15 years or so, numerous companies have delved into research towards hair restoration through cloning, but have later thrown in the towel thanks to heavy budgetary demands or consistent disappointing results.
Is hair cloning available now? The answer is ‘No’. However, several companies continue to carry out studies in the quest for this elusive goal. Although all are still in the research stage, a few appear to be ahead of the pack; set to cross the finish line in the not-so-distant future… or so they say.
Here are 5 companies who claim to be developing hair coning technologies in 2022.
Hair Clone was one of the early entrants into the race. To appreciate this company’s proposed process it is necessary to understand that hair growth is controlled by a specific group of stem-like cells called Dermal Papilla (DP) cells found at the base of the hair follicle. A decreasing number of DP cells with each hair cycle leads to thinning and eventual loss of hair.
Hair Clone’s process
Hair Clone’s proposed procedure involves the extraction of hair follicles by a transplant surgeon as is done in hair transplantation. This would then be followed by the isolation of DP cells from the follicles. Once isolated, DP cells would be multiplied or cloned 1000-fold through culture techniques. Cloned DP cells can then be micro-injected into a patient’s balding scalp to produce thicker hair.
Hair Clone is perhaps the most bullish of the pack as they have even set up the first hair follicle bank in the world. The Manchester-based facility is already preserving follicles extracted from patients who can then use the unaged follicles when the procedure is eventually approved.
Another company that seems to have made significant strides is the Silicon Valley start-up dNovo Inc. January 2022 saw the company announce the receipt of $2.7M in seed funding from various companies for research based on its cell reprogramming technique.
Unlike other studies which rely on hair follicle cells, this technology directly converts one cell type into another. Skin cells, for instance, can be converted into hair stem cells. These can then be injected into a balding scalp to replace cells damaged due to male pattern baldness. Such cells are said to be capable of evading immune system responses which would ordinarily reject them.
According to Dr. Ernesto Lujan, the founder, and CEO, the patent-pending technology is still a long way from being viable for human use. However, it has proved successful in laboratory mice.
Authorization of this system would no doubt be a game changer in the hair restoration industry because hair follicle cells can be generated from cells other than hair. An unlimited supply of healthy hair cells would mean that even men who are completely bald could one day have a full head of hair – without the need for donor hair.
Stemson Therapeutics’ technology is much like that used by dNovo as it involves cell reprogramming.
Based on the works of 2006 Nobel Prize winner Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, it utilizes iPSCs (Induced Pluripotent Stem cells) which are derived from skin or blood cells that have been reprogrammed back into an embryonic-like state.
This allows for the development of an unlimited supply of any type of human cell which may be needed for any therapeutic purpose.
For hair restoration, the technology, developed at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Institute would be used to generate new supplies of dermal papilla which would be injected into the scalp to achieve hair growth.
Epibiotech (previously named Stemore) is a Korean biotech that specializes in hair follicle research. Its R&D line has evolved over the last 2 years and now has 4 potential therapies for hair loss treatment. The most prominent is EPI-001, a therapy with dermal papilla cells as its main component.
Research utilizing these key hair growth cells has been challenging for researchers all over the world due to culturing problems. Biotech has circumvented this by developing a hypoxic (low oxygen) culture process and developing a special medium suitable for DP cells.
Significant progress has been made as reports indicate that the company completed the dermal papilla cell pipeline in June 2022, and plans to apply for an Investigational New Drug Application (IND) to begin Phase 1 clinical trials in 2023.
Reports also confirm that pre-clinical trials on pigs showed promising results. Only one month after transplanting human dermal papilla cells into the animal’s skin, researchers observed a 40% improvement in the number of hairs and a 30% increase in hair thickness.
Replicel is a Canadian regenerative medicine company that is developing a group of 4 aesthetic and orthopedic products. One of these is RCH – 01, a cell therapy designed to treat male pattern baldness.
The fundamental concept behind the therapy is the fact that male pattern baldness comes about when dermal sheath cells (which are responsible for hair growth) located at the base of the hair follicle suffer the effects of the DHT hormone, causing thinning and eventual hair loss.
However, cells at the back of the head are immune to DHT and therefore never suffer the same effect.
RCH – 01 is made up mainly of dermal sheath cup cells drawn from the back of a patient’s scalp. These would be isolated and used to grow millions more which would then be reintroduced into balding areas on the patient’s scalp.
According to replicel.com, RCH – 01 which was developed by Shiseido Company, in conjunction with Replicel, is in Clinical Phase 3 of the research process. Results from Phase 2 showed the best clinical results with the lowest dose tested.
In the next phase, researchers will be looking to establish if results would improve with even lower doses and the number of rounds of treatment required to achieve optimal hair regeneration.
Despite all this and other promising research efforts, the bottom line remains that hair cloning technology is still not available in the market today. None of the companies involved has completed research processes and obtained requisite authorization from relevant regulating bodies.
Will hair cloning ever happen? It is safe to say that it will. According to a Grand View Research market analysis report, the global hair restoration market size was estimated at $4.2 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of 15% until 2028.
With such huge market potential, we can be sure research will continue with zeal. It is no longer a question of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ hair cloning technology will be available as a method of hair restoration.