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Home > Articles > Bioluminescence Sheds Light on Stem Cell Hair Therapy

Bioluminescence Sheds Light on Stem Cell Hair Therapy

by Dean Anderson

In today’s hair loss market there are a variety of surgeries, creams, pills, and shampoos proven to slow or stop hair fall, but few that actually initiate hair re-growth. Because of the small size and tight spread of follicles, measuring the efficacy of those select products which do help the scalp generate new hair has been difficult. However, scientists presenting stem cell hair growth research on mice to the Society of Nuclear Medicine's 2012 Annual Meeting have found a bright solution these problems. Using sensitive optical measurements and a snippet of firefly DNA they’ve able to attach bioluminescent marker to stem cell grafts, letting scientists observe their hair boosting progress by tracking the glow.

While growing glow-in-the-dark hair on bald mice might seem like something straight out of a science fiction movie, the process is couched in very real research. Stem cell treatments have been studied for decades regarding their unique ability to create sustainable re-growth in everything from hair follicles to brain tissue. The hair restoration industry has been abuzz since Takashi Tsuji from the Tokyo University of Science published a study revealing how his team achieved a 74% success rate growing new follicles on hairless mice using stem cell therapy. Adding to the excitement, scientists were able to control the type and density of hairs, and the stem cells used came from adults skin cells, not embryonic cells harvested from fetuses.

Nuclear medicine scientists from the Kyungpook National University School of Medicine in South Korea are modelling Dr. Tsuji’s research and refining it using their bioluminescent trackers. They began their innovative process to examine whether grafted stem cells could grow and thrive the way that normal cells do over long periods of time. Without the glowing genetic modifications, keeping up with the progress would’ve meant frequent invasive testing of the mice, which could’ve jeopardized the animals’ health or skewed the results.

To make the stem cells stand out Korean scientists inserted a luminescent complex of luciferase coupled with D-luciferin into the grafts that would weakly glow as long as the cells were alive. The cocktail was reported to contain a number of DNA trackers from lightning bugs, glowworms, and certain species of beetles, all known for their signature luminescence. The bioluminescent cells were part of specific chemical substances called “substrates” within the skin. Once the grafted the team measured the location of the cells using sensitive optical imaging systems on five separate occasions over the course of three weeks. Scientists noted new and consistent follicle growth on the skin samples examined under a microscope, suggesting that the stem cells were generating new hairs that would continue to grow in normal cycles.

"Hair regeneration using hair stem cells is a promising therapeutic option emerging for hair loss, and molecular imaging can speed up the development of this therapy,” Dr. Byeong-Cheol Ahn, professor and director of the department of nuclear medicine at Kyungpook National University, told "This study is the first study of hair follicle regeneration using an in vivo molecular imaging technique."

While the team noted early success in both tracking and placement of the cells, it could be years before this type of treatment is approved for clinical human trials. If you’re interested in the only permanent hair replacement technique on the market, hair transplant surgery, contact us today! Our Hair Loss Forum representatives are waiting to schedule you a free, no hassle consultation with a hair replacement specialist near you!

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