Stem Cell Therapy
Stem Cell Therapy for Hair Loss : Hope or Hoax?
Stem cells are the very first cells that form after the sperm and the egg meet, i.e. at conception. All of us start life as a single celled organism. Shortly after that, the single cell divides into 2 cells, which divide into 4, which divide into 16 cells and so on. These cells are known as stem cells and the reason they are given this name is because every cell of the body eventually “stems” from these cells.
Depending on their stage of development these stem cells are divided into various categories like – Embryonic stem cells, which are the stem cells formed within 7 days of conception and stem cells, which are formed after birth. Unlike their name, Stem Cells are found in both children.
The huge excitement about stems cells is due to the fact that these cells are like mother cells that have the potential to become any type of cell in the body. Stem cells can become cells of the blood, heart, bones, skin, muscles or brain.
Similarly in case of baldness if your hair roots are destroyed, using stem cells we can produce new roots, giving the patient a whole new crop of hair, something no treatment has so far been able to do.
In case of hair, the Stem Cells are located little above the hair root in an area called the hair bulge, where they remain silent for a long time. Under certain circumstances, when the hair root cells are destroyed, the Stem cells migrate from the hair bulge area to the hair root area and form new hair root cells. However what activates the Stem cells is unknown as they do not necessarily recognize the damage and migrate to form new cells in all the cases. Sometimes they do and sometimes they just don’t.
Thus, there is a growing need to tap the potential of the stem cells. If we can get the stem cells to behave and develop as directed, then in every case of hair loss, even in case of complete baldness, we can generate a whole new crop of hair roots and a head full of natural hair. Theoretically this sounds like the ultimate ‘Fountain of Youth’, an endless supply of hair.
This is the hope that we have from Stem Cells. But before we open the bottle of Champagne, let’s look at the other side of the story and find the answer to some questions. If stem cells look so promising, then why do we still see bald people around us? Why has baldness not been eradicated yet?
The reason, stem cell therapy has some limitations like:-
a) Technology not yet available
Theoretically we can remove a person’s hair root stem cells from the head, multiply it in a laboratory, inject them back into the scalp and make them grow hair. Theoretically yes but practically no. There is no technology available that allows us to do this in the present day. A few companies are carrying out experiments, but are yet to come out with concrete solutions. The technology may need some more time to develop. Some people are trying to overcome this problem by using stem cells from other sources like apples and other plants, which is completely rubbish. An apple stem cell can grow apples on your head, but not hair.
b) How to avoid recurrence of hair loss
The second concern is even if we manage to grow new hair using stem cells, how do we prevent them from suffering the same damage as the earlier ones? That is how do we protect them from the original triggers like heredity, stress, hormones or infection? Unless we can find a solution to this problem, we can grow an endless supply of hair and it would still keep falling off. One way to avoid this would be to maintain them through continuous medication, perhaps even lifelong. Thus even with stem cell therapy, medication would still be required to sustain hair, perhaps even more than before.
c) Long term side-effects
This is the biggest worry of all. Since research in this field is pretty new the data available is limited. The long term side effects are yet not fully understood. For example, in case of Embryonic Stem Cells, it was only after sometime of its use, the researchers realized that it can cause cancer and therefore a lot of research based on Embryonic Stem Cells has now been discontinued. Similarly the long term side effects of using Stem Cells will only be known after a while, and should not end up becoming a case of the cure being worse than the disease.