A paper published on Tuesday in Proceedings of the National Academy of describes how researchers successfully grew human hair follicles in the laboratory using circumcised foreskins. The paper, titled “Generation of hair cells in neonatal mice by β-catenin overexpression in Lgr5-positive cochlear progenitors,” describes a process involving culturing altered human cells within tissue from the circumcised foreskins of newborns and grafting the resulting structures on to the backs of mice.
Previous studies have found that adult rodent dermal papillae (nipple-like protrusions), which control hair follicle growth, can be grown in the laboratory, transplanted into recipient skin and made to trigger new hair follicles.
But it has taken close to 40 years to achieve similar results using lab-grown human hair follicles. The breakthrough was made by a team of researchers from Columbia University in New York and Durham University in Britain.
The paper explains that researchers opted for neonatal foreskin because it does not contain hair bearing tissue, which would conflict with the foreign human dermal papillae that control hair follicle growth “not just to contribute to hair follicles within the skin, but rather, to fully reprogram the recipient epidermis to a follicular fate.”
The paper identifies “gene switches” that control hair development in promoting human hair growth, which should lead to the creation of new drugs to treat hair loss.