A Stem Cell Treatment for Hair Loss


Male and female pattern baldness involves the receding of the hair-line, hair loss and the thinning the hair covering on the scalp. Hair loss is also called alopecia and is a common problem among the elderly, those afflicted with certain diseases of the scalp, or those who take certain medicines. Hair life is not the end of life, but it can change someone’s appearance, affect their self-image, and affect someone’s emotional state. People with hair loss can use topical monoxidil (Rogaine), take an oral drug called finasteride (Propecia), or undergo a hair transplant. The drugs, however, must be used constantly or they stop working and hair transplants are horribly expensive.

Can stem cell-based treatment restore hair after it has been lost? Fortunately, a stem cell population called dermal papilla cells (DPCs), which are a type of mesenchymal stem cell population in hair follicles, have been identified and even characterized to some extent. DPCs are responsible for the formation of hair-follicles and play a very role in the process of hair cycling in which the hair shaft grows, is shed, is reestablished, and grows again. DPC might be useful for treating alopecia, but they do not survive when cultured outside the body, and this limitation has limited developing stem cell-based treatments for hair loss.

Now collaboration between two scientific research teams from Canada and China have resulted in a new way to use stem cells to treat hair loss.

A research team from the Nanfang Hospital of Southern Medical University, China, led by Zhi-Qi Hu and a Canadian team from the University of Manitoba, Canada, led by Malcolm Xing have designed a three-layered tunic that feeds and protects the DPCs and allows them to grow outside the body.

Xing describes this nutritive tunic as a “nutritious nano-clothing,” made of gelatin and alginate. These molecules can self-assemble and Hu and Xing and their coworkers encapsulated the cells within an inner layer of gelatin, a middle layer of alginate loaded with fibroblast growth factor-2, and an outer layer of gelatin. They call this method of encapsulation “layer-by-layer (LBL) nano-coating.”  This gelatin/alginate coating creates a protective microenvironment for cultured DPC and provides them with a significant source of a growth factor called fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF2), which enhances proliferation of the DPCs and induces hair cell fates. The use of these three-layered tunics keeps the inductive signals close to the DPCs and circumvents the difficulties encountered in regenerating new hair follicles on bald skin.

DPC - hair follicle regeneration

When the Xing and Hu teams implanted these encased DPCs into the skin of nude mice, the implanted encapsulated cells generated the growth of abundant hair. The hair produced by these cells also was rooted in hair follicles that were normal in their appearance and function. The coating improvised by these teams greatly augmented the therapeutic capabilities of the DPCs by recapitulating the niche in which these cells are normally found. This stem cell niche induces the cells to secrete the native extracellular matrix that typically surrounds the cells and release the growth factors that keep the cells growing and in the proper stage of the cell cycle.

According to Xing, the most difficult part of this research project was “optimizing the concentrations of the coated polymers and manufacturing conditions to make the cells happy and healthy.”

Regenerative medicine researcher Oommen Varghese, from Uppsala University in Sweden, who was not involved in this work, said, “This is fascinating science that has enormous potential for clinical translational of stem cell based regenerative medicine. Such a coating could also protect cells from innate immunity, thereby improving the in vivo survivability. This is a major challenge in stem cell based translational research.”

Xing and his collaborators and colleagues would like to transform this technique from a laboratory bench to a clinical application that can be tested in human clinical trials.

Thyroid Organoids Made from Stem Cells Treat Thyroid-Deficient Mice


Darrell Kotton and his research team from Beth Deaconess Medical Center, in collaboration with researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine have devised a workable protocol for differentiating Human pluripotent stem cells into functional thyroid gland cells.

Every year, many people are diagnosed with an underactive thyroid and many others lose their thyroid as a result of thyroid cancer. Designing treatments that can help replace lost thyroid tissue would certainly be a welcome thing for these patients.

By working with mouse embryonic stem cells, Kotton and his colleagues showed that two growth factors, BMP4 and FGF2, and induce foregut endodermal cells to differentiate into thyroid cells. This simple signaling pathway not only efficiently generates thyroid tissue from endoderm, but this pathway turns out to be commonly used in species as diverse as frogs, mice and humans.

The BMP4/FGF2-treated foregut cells differentiated into small thyroid organics that Kotton and his team were able to transplant into thyroid-deficient mice. These transplantations restored normal thyroid function to these mice.

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While mice cells are a fine model system for human diseases, they are not exactly the same. Can this procedure work with human cells? To answer that question, Kotton and his coworkers used human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and subjected them to the same BMP4/FGF2 protocol after they had first differentiated the cells into endoderm. In addition, Kotton and his team made thyroid cells from iPSCs derived from cells taken from patients with a specific type of hypothyroidism (interactive thyroid). These patients lack a gene called NKX2-1, and suffer from congenital hypothyroidism.

The thyroid is responsible for your basal metabolic rate. Hypothyroidism or an interactive thyroid can cause patients to gain weight, feel tired constantly, have trouble concentrating, and have a slow heart rate. Hypothyroidism is usually treated with synthetic thyroid hormones that are taken orally. However, restoring a patient’s own thyroid tissue or even replacing defective thyroid tissue with repaired thyroid tissue would be a huge boon to thyroid patients.

This work has discovered the regulatory mechanisms that drive the establishment of the thyroid. It also provides a significant step toward cell-based regenerative therapy for hypothyroidism and the replacement of the thyroid after thyroid cancer treatments.

These results were published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, October 2015 DOI:10.1016/j.stem.2015.09.004.

New Method Derived Skeletal Muscle Cells from Pluripotent Stem Cells


A University of Wisconsin research team led by Masatoshi Suzuki has devised a new protocol for the production of large quantities of skeletal muscle cells from pluripotent stem cells.

Suzuki and his team used embryonic stem cells lines and induced pluripotent stem cells to generate large quantities of muscles and muscle progenitor.

Suzuki adapted a technique used to make brain cells to derive his muscle cells in culture. He grew the stem cells as floating spheres in high concentrations of two growth factors: fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF2) and epidermal growth factor (EGF). This combination of growth factors directed the stem cells to differentiate into skeletal muscle cells and muscle progenitors.

To replace damaged or diseased muscles in the clinic, physicians will require large quantities of muscle cells. Therefore, there was an ardent search to design a technique that was efficient, but also fast and relatively simple. Even though several protocols have been devised to differentiate pluripotent stem cells into muscle cells, not all of these protocols are practical for clinical use. For example, some protocols are simply too cumbersome for clinical use. Still others make use of genetically engineered cells that have not been approved for clinical use.

Earlier, Suzuki transplanted lab-engineered skeletal muscle into mice that had a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. These animals had better muscle function and survived better than the control animals.

The muscle progenitors generated in Suzuki’s laboratory could potentially play a similar role in human patients with Lou Gehring’s disease. Suzuki’s method can grow muscle progenitor cells, which can grow in culture, from induced pluripotent stem cells, which are derived from the patient’s own cells. Such cells could be used as a model system to study the efficacy of particular treatments on the patient’s muscles, or they could be used to treat patients who have muscle defects.

“Our protocol can work in multiple ways and so we hope to provide a resource for people who are exploring specific neuromuscular diseases in the laboratory,” said Suzuki.

The advantages of Suzuki’s protocol are manifold. First, the cells are grown in a defined medium devoid of animal products. Secondly, the stem cells are grown as spheres, and these grow faster when grown as spheres than they do with other techniques. Third, 40-60 percent of the cells grown in this culture system differentiate into skeletal muscle cells or muscle progenitor cells. This is a very high proportion of muscle cells when compared to other protocols.

Suzuki hopes that by toying with the culture system, he and his colleagues can increase this proportion of muscle cells that form from the initial stem cell culture. This would enhance the potential of using these cells for clinical purposes.