Using stem cells to grow hair

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For some the stress of every day life can prove to be too much actually causing their hair to fall out. But now there’s an experimental treatment in the Bay area that may help your hair grow back regardless of why it fell out.

Russell Gibson is hoping it will work for him. Under the hot Florida sun each day he wears a black knit stocking cap pulled down low over his ears and his eyebrows. He spends hours working outside because he owns “Momma Gibbs Top Notch Boat Detail.” Seeing see him dressed in a t-shirt and shorts with a cap on his head makes most people look twice.

He says when customers or friends ask him why he’s wearing it he tries to quickly change the subject. In nearly three years hardly anyone has seen Gibson without a cap. “Nobody really knows that I have this problem except for two or three people I’ve actually told.”

In his garage in private when his roommate is gone and no one else is home is the only time he will remove it. He shaves away the short black clumps of hair so you won’t notice the circular areas of hair that have fallen out.

Gibson has alopecia areata which is an auto-immune disease where white blood cells attack the hair follicle which stops hair growth on the scalp and on the body. Gibson’s eyebrows and lashes have fallen out. There is no cure.

The condition can be brought on by extreme stress among other things. When Gibson developed it he was on an emotional rollercoaster. He’d recently lost his grandmother and was going through a breakup. He maintains a busy lifestyle not only running a business during the day but working as a certified nursing assistant in the evenings.

Gibson says the experience with his hair loss has been grueling because he’s always been outgoing and enjoys spending time with his family and friends. But now he avoids group gatherings so he won’t have to answer questions about his hats.

Growing up Gibson always had a full head of hair but says this experience has changed his life. He skips important gatherings with his family and friends because he says he doesn’t want to tell them about his condition. He’s fearful that they will look at him differently. He also doesn’t want to show up at places where it may be disrespectful to wear a hat like for a holiday dinner or a wedding. “It got to the point that I didn’t go over and see my family unless it was daytime that way I could wear sunglasses and a hat to cover up.”

John Satino is the clinical director at the “Hair and Scalp Clinics” located in Clearwater. He can relate to what Gibson is going through. He says “I started losing hair at an early age in 1969. We didn’t have too many options back then. We had hair transplants and hair pieces or wigs. The hair transplants were very archaic and bloody and painful.”

That’s why Gibson opted to get help from Satino to undergo an experimental treatment using stem cells instead. Satino explains how it works. “So this treatment involves drawing the blood of the patient, their own blood. It’s then separated. It’s called PRP or platelet rich plasma which contains stem cells and growth factors. Those factors then are injected into the scalp in the affected area.” Satino says a laser is used to agitate the skin so the stem cells can migrate into the hair follicles.

The stem cell treatment can cost several thousands dollars and it can be uncomfortable. It’s a one time procedure that can be performed on men and women and it takes about an hour. Patients are expected to see results after about three months.

Gibson is being treated for free along with a handful of others. Their results are going to be published in a study.

He’s hoping that if his hair continues to grow he’ll finally be able to get his life back. He laughs as he says “So by August I plan on taking all my hats and having a big bonfire and I will never wear a hat again to be honest.”

John Satino says if you’re losing your hair there are several other treatment options available but first he recommends patients who are losing their hair take a DNA test. It’s a simple mouth swab taken to determine whether you have male pattern baldness. It costs about 100 dollars and you can see your lab results online before following up with a doctor.

He adds that injections of cortisones or steroids can work for some but may only have temporary results. Laser treatments are another option that may work and then there’s the stem cell treatment which is the procedure Russell Gibson is undergoing.

Hair Loss and Replacement For Dummies


3 thoughts on “Using stem cells to grow hair”

  1. Children with alopecia areata, a condition that causes extensive, sometimes complete hair loss, grew hair after being injected with stem cells drawn from their own scalp in a small study.

    Most of the five girls and three boys who had widespread baldness showed regrowth of as much as half of their hair in a preliminary study from Marwa Fawzi, a dermatologist at the University of Cairo Faculty of Medicine. Before the experimental treatment, some of the children had splotches of hair and baldness; others were almost totally bald.

    Alopecia areata can occur at any age in either gender and there are no FDA-approved treatments, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. Researchers believe people may be genetically predisposed to the condition, which can be aggravated by stress, Fawzi said. Children who get it are often shunned and teased by others, she said in an interview today at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Barcelona, Spain, where she presented her findings.

    “It’s an emotionally devastating disorder for children,” she said.

    Alopecia areata is distinct from the more common male pattern baldness that many men endure as they age. Fawzi has not tested the stem-cell injection treatment for male pattern baldness.

    The Cairo researcher took small amounts of skin from the scalps of the children, isolated the hair follicle stem cells that stimulate hair production, and grew them in the lab, increasing the number of cells. After one month, she put the cells back into the scalps of the children, with numerous injections across the bald areas of their heads.

    Hair Regrowth

    She evaluated the children at one, three and six months after the injections. At the six-month mark, five of the children had at least a 50 percent increase in the amount of hair on their heads, two patients had a smaller increase and one had no change in quantity of hair, she said.

    She also took new skin samples and examined the hair follicles themselves and could see that the injected stem cells had migrated into the follicles. There, the stem cells stimulated the follicles to transition from a dormant phase to a hair-generating phase, Fawzi said.

    In a poster that she presented at the meeting, she showed photographs of an 8-year-old boy named Mahmoud who was almost completely bald before the treatment and had a nearly full head of hair afterward.

    Mahmoud was socially isolated before and always wore a hat to hide his baldness, she said. He now calls her almost every day to talk and thank her for the treatment.

    Fawzi plans a larger study of at least 30 children to test the treatment. Each child will receive stem-cell injections in some of the bald areas of their head and placebo injections in others. She will then be able to evaluate the differences in a controlled way, she said.

    If the treatment works, she plans to look into its usefulness for androgenic alopecia, better known as male pattern baldness.


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