Hair cloning (A stem cell treatment for hair loss)

Published on August 1, 2022
Updated on August 1, 2022
A clinician preparing surgically extracted hair follicles for hair cloning.
The first step in hair cloning is the extraction of hair follicles.

Hair cloning is a hair loss treatment for pattern baldness that’s still in the research phase. This technique involves the extraction and cloning of hair follicle cells. Healthy hair follicles are meant to be taken from parts of the scalp not affected by hair loss, replicated in a lab, and then transplanted back onto the person’s scalp on the parts that are affected by balding.

It obviously sounds great to clone your hair. After all, this technique would technically allow you to have as many healthy hairs as you wanted.  

But so far, hair cloning hasn’t been too successful. Hair follicle cells can be extracted from a donor and replicated with ease. However, once they’re transplanted back into the donor, the results have been mixed – limiting this technique’s ability to treat hair loss.

What does hair cloning involve?

Hair cloning sounds like it would involve the literal cloning of hair – as in, your hair strands. The reality is that this procedure isn’t so simple. According to a study in the Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology journal, humans have cloned sheep, cows, and dogs – but we haven’t actually managed to clone human hair yet.  

Hair cloning always starts with a scalp biopsy. A medical professional extracts healthy hairs from your scalp, including the root and hair follicle buried within your skin. But from there, the procedure can vary.

According to the book Practical Aspects of Hair Transplantation in Asians, hair cloning multiplication tends to focus on the isolation of cells found in the hair follicle. Once enough of the follicular cells have been expanded, they’re transplanted back into the scalp. 

Right now, hair cloning is such a new technique that the type of cells used to complete the procedure are not always the same. However, they’re usually dermal sheath cells or a mixture of cultured outer root sheath and dermal papilla cells. According to a Wound Repair and Regeneration study, these cells, which are usually found at the bottom of hair follicles, support the hair growth cycle and follicles’ ability to produce hair strands. 

Currently, all of the successful hair cloning methods involve the cloning of groups of follicular cells or stem cells. So really, despite its catchy name, hair cloning really ought to be called hair follicle cloning or hair stem cell cloning. 

Is hair cloning possible?

Hair cloning has been possible for a while. According to an article in Actas Dermo-Sifiliográficas, it’s been explored for several decades and has been successful in preclinical animal research.

But don’t interpret the word possible as successful. When the results of the first hair cloning human trials were released, they only managed to improve hair growth by about 6 percent.

Since then, many companies and research centers have tried approaching hair cloning in a different way. Most recently, the results of phase I/IIa hair cloning clinical trials were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. These clinical trials focused on the cloning hair follicle dermal sheath cup cells to help people with pattern hair loss (androgenic alopecia). 

Is hair cloning permanent?

The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology study’s participants benefited from dermal sheath cup cell cloning and transplantation. But it seems the results were brief and limited. 

The trial reported that the participants had improved hair density and hair thickness. But these improvements were short-lived, appearing 6 months and 9 months after the treatment had been applied, and reverting back to the original state by the 1-year mark.  

While this result may sound disappointing, it’s actually not bad for such a new hair loss treatment. Plus, remember: dermal sheath cup cell cloning is still in the early phases of clinical trials. 

Since the procedure produced positive results and only minor side effects (like redness and swelling) that went away after a few days, it’s continuing to be studied in further clinical trials. With any luck, the next clinical trials will establish if multiple or regular repeat treatments are needed to maintain the treatment’s improvements to hair health.  

Why would hair cloning work for androgenic alopecia?

Hair loss due to androgenic alopecia is usually blamed on two main causes: genetics and hormones. Hair cloning targets neither of these. In fact, it’s more similar to a hair transplant. 

In a hair transplant, healthy hair follicles can be moved from the lower sides and back of your head – the regions unaffected by hair loss – and transplanted to the parts of the head affected that are balding. These healthy hair follicles are not sensitive to the hormone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), that’s thought to be the main culprit behind androgenic alopecia. Sensitivity to DHT is what causes hair to thin and follicles to stop producing hair strands.

According to an article in the journal Hair Transplant Forum International, hair cloning utilizes the same strategy. Hair follicles that are not sensitive to DHT are harvested, and the follicular cells from them are extracted and expanded. When those follicular cells are transplanted back into the scalp, they can stimulate existing follicles that have been affected by DHT, encouraging them to become healthier and start producing hair again. 

The downside is that neither hair transplants or hair cloning procedures are cures for pattern hair loss. This condition is progressive and requires repeated (and usually continuous) treatments to stop you from becoming bald. 

Hair transplants aren’t a cure because only the healthy hair follicles that have been relocated will be able to produce healthy hair. Any of the neighboring follicles that are sensitive to DHT will continue to be affected and will eventually stop producing hair. In order to stop losing hair, you still need to use a hair loss treatment – or you need to have multiple hair transplantation procedures. 

One day, getting a combined hair transplant and cloning procedure might even be an option for people with pattern hair loss. But for now, you’re limited to hair transplants and the three FDA-approved treatments: minoxidil, finasteride, and laser hair therapy. 

Combining a hair loss treatment with hair cloning

If you’ve ever considered getting a hair transplant, you’ll probably know that it’s often recommended to use a hair loss treatment – like minoxidil – before and after the procedure to enhance its results. So far, no clinical trials have explored the same approach with hair cloning. 

That being said – unless you’re planning on joining a clinical trial, it’s unlikely that hair cloning will be available to you in the near future. In the meantime, you should consider using an FDA-approved hair loss treatment in order to stop your hair loss from getting any worse. 

According to a review in the Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy journal, finasteride is an oral medication that’s proven to be pretty effective for men with pattern hair loss. This drug is meant to be taken once a day in a dose of 1 milligram. While it can help stop the progression of hair loss in most men, it only improves hair regrowth in about 70 percent of users. Its main downside are systemic side effects that can be unpleasant and have the potential to persist even after you stop taking the medication. 

Minoxidil is a topical medication that’s sold as a liquid and a foam and is available in concentrations of 2 and 5 percent. The 5 percent concentration is thought to be most effective. Studies have shown conflicting results on whether or not it’s more effective than finasteride. However, it definitely has less severe side effects. Reported issues tend to be limited to skin irritation and dermatitis, which are usually resolvable by simply switching to a different minoxidil product. 

Laser hair therapy, also known as low-level light therapy or LLLT, is administered via a variety of different devices, including caps, combs, brushes, and helmets. This biostimulatory light treatment is able to help stop the progression of pattern hair loss and support hair regrowth. 

According to the Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy study, LLLT has also been assessed in combination with minoxidil. When the treatments are combined, they’re able to improve hair density and hair strand thickness much more than 5 percent minoxidil does on its own.

When will hair cloning be available?

Hair cloning probably won’t be available for a few more years, at a minimum. That being said, a study in the IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences identified another six institutions that are exploring the cloning of hair follicle cells, while the International Hair Science Association has identified three more. One of these organizations has even started the world’s first hair bank and has already started storing hair follicles. 

Of course, little can be done with these preserved hair follicles at the moment. But once a hair cloning procedure is approved, they can theoretically be taken out of storage, multiplied, and transplanted back into their donor’s head at any time. 

If you’re interested in exploring hair cloning, the International Hair Science Association says that there will be two more clinical trials for hair cloning in 2022. Both of these trials (from two different organizations) will explore the cloning and transplanting of dermal papilla cells, though the procedure itself will be performed in slightly different ways.  

What would joining a clinical trial for hair cloning cost?

Hair cloning human trials shouldn’t cost you anything. In fact, it’s not unusual for the trial to pay you for your time and effort. And if they don’t offer payment, it’s typical for them to reimburse you for any inconvenience they may put you through (attending appointments during the work day or restricting other treatment options for the period of the clinical trial). Their goal is to support your commitment to see the trial through to the end. 

While all this might sound great, only a few hair cloning trials are going to start looking for participants in the near future – and you might not meet their recruitment criteria. They may also be located in another state or even another country. Unfortunately, being able to join a clinical trial for hair cloning is probably comparable to winning the lottery. 

When can we expect hair cloning to be available to the public?

Hair cloning is a novel technique that takes cells from your hair follicles, expands them, and transplants them back into your scalp. So far, the procedure has been shown to be effective, but its positive results are temporary. It’s unlikely to be a cure for pattern hair loss, and it seems like repeat treatments will be needed.  

Hair cloning probably won’t be available to the public for some time. But clinical trials will likely be recruiting for a number of years. If you’re keen on giving hair cloning a try, your best bet is to find a clinical trial recruiting near you. 

If you can’t find one or you don’t meet the trial’s recruitment criteria, you should consider using an FDA-approved hair loss treatment. Minoxidil, finasteride, and laser hair therapy are all safe and effective options for men with pattern hair loss.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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