May 4, 2005
Hair Cloning as "Silver Bullet" For Baldness May Take Awhile
By Ellen Sheng
It's likely to be years before someone as bald as actor Bruce Willis will be able to walk into a doctor's office, donate a few hairs for multiplying, return for scalp injections 10 days later and end up with a full had of hair in a matter of months.
Bosley, the single largest provider of hair transplants in the U.S., has been pursuing a solution since 2002. The company, owned by Japanese wig manufacturer Aderans Co., employs 18 researchers. Bosley's Chief Executive John Ohanesian thinks his company could get a cloning process to market as soon as 2008.
Initial treatments would likely cost between $8,000 and $12,000 and be offered in addition to a hair transplant, Mr. Ohanesian said. But eventually, as techniques improve, patients could just get injections, like Botox, he said referring to the Allergan Inc. drug injected to remove skin wrinkles. Hereditary hair loss affects 80 million men and women in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Dermatology, and Americans spend millions of dollars every year trying to fight it.
Hair cloning would be the silver bullet for baldness, said Tony Manugat, a Seattle-based plastic surgeon and president of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery.
Hereditary hair loss stems from sensitivity to the hormone dihydrotestosterone or DHT. Hair follicles shrink to microscopic size and eventually fail to grow healthy new hairs. Drugs such as Propecia and Pfizer Inc.'s Rogaine work by blocking DHT or the effects of the hormone.
Hair transplants work by shifting hairs from the back of the head to other areas to cover bald spots. Those hairs are genetically different and resistant to the effects of DHT. Hair cloning takes it a step further by taking some of these genetically resistant hairs from the back of the head and multiplying them. Researchers break down the hairs to different cells, then reproduce the cells in petri dishes. The cells are injected back into the scalp and form hair follicles.
Researchers have grown hair on mice, but getting hair to grow on humans has been a challenge, but Bosley is hard at work.