Excerpts from Hope Sprouts Eternal by Karen Springen, Newsweek
Five minutes after I meet Ken Washenik, he invites me to examine his scalp. We're in the penthouse offices of Beverly-Hills based Bosley, the nation's largest hair transplantation company where Washenik, the head of New York University's dermatopharmacology department until 2002, now leads Bosley's research and development. He is also, as the saying goes, a client.
"Only so much scalp can be harvested from the back and sides of the head." says Washenik. He has a solution. Rather than removing a chunk of scalp, doctors have begun to experiment with extracting single hair cells, replicating them in a petri dish, and implanting new, lab-grown cells. These cells mature into hair follicles through a process known as follicular neogeneis.
Transplants are arguably now the most effective treatment, but it took decades for the procedure to emerge from the shadow of hair-growth hucksterism...medical journals refused to publish the findings for seven years and the procedure didn't become widely available until the 1960's. These early efforts were derided as hair "plugs" because they involved relocating clusters of 15 to 20 hairs, creating a bristle-brush effect.
In 2001, Bosley launched trials and began experimenting with different combinations of growth catylists, methodically searching for the recipe that causes follicular cells to maintain their genetic code. Washenik says that 80 percent of his lab-grown cells now produce hair when implanted in mice.
"This research will change the world, not just your hair," Washenik says. "Hair is the perfect model for organ regeneration," says Cheng-Ming Chuong, an organ regeneration specialist at USC. "it will have reverberations throughout the field of tissue engineering."
Washenik says it will take as much as five years before follicular neogenesis receives FDA approval and reaches the market. If Washenik has his way, baldness will soon disappear.