Alopecia areata (AA) is an autoimmune disease that targets the hair follicles. It affects the quality of life and self-esteem of patients because they lose their hair. Is there a way to treat this disease without suppressing the immune system?
Yong Zhao and from Tianhe Stem Cell Biotechnologies in Shandong, China and his collaborators used a so-called “Stem Cell Educator therapy” in which they took the patient’s blood and circulated it through a closed-loop system that separated mononuclear cells from the whole blood, and then allowed those cells to briefly interact with adherent human cord blood-derived multipotent stem cells (CB-SC). After this interaction, the mononuclear cells were returned to the patient’s circulation. This procedure uses the cord blood cells to “educate” the white blood cells of the patient to not attack the patient’s hair follicles.
In an open-label, phase 1/phase 2 study, nine patients with severe AA received one treatment with the Stem Cell Educator therapy. These patients were about 20 years old and had lost their hair, on the average, about 5 years ago.
All these patients experienced improved hair regrowth and quality of life after receiving Stem Cell Educator therapy. Furthermore, analyses of immune cells from the blood of treated patients showed that the types of immune cells that attack tissues decreased and the number of cells that regulate the immune response increased. Also, investigations of hair follicles in the treated patients revealed that the restored hair follicles expressed a ring of transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF-β1) around the hair follicles. TGF-β1 is a secreted molecule that down-regulates the immune response and prevents immune cells from attacking your own tissue. The fact that the hair follicles secreted all this TGF-β1 shows that the restored hair follicles had steeled them against the immune system.
How did the cord blood cells do this? By culturing white blood cells with cord blood cells in cell culture, Zhao and others showed that the human cord blood-derived multipotent stem cells induced white blood cells to increase their expression of molecules that are known to tame self-destructive white blood cells. Thus the cord blood stem cells secrete regulatory molecules that change the character of the immune cells so that they no longer attack the hair follicles.
These clinical data demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the Stem Cell Educator therapy for the treatment of AA. This is a very innovative approach that can produce lasting improvement in hair regrowth in subjects with moderate or severe AA.