Detailed information about bioengineering the hair follicles

Bioengineering Challenges

Bioengineering involves making use of physical, chemical, or mathematical sciences and engineering principles to understand biological, medicinal, behavioral, or health related issues of a living organism, and manipulate the same by using these principles.

This marriage of advanced concepts of all these disciplines might result in innovative biologics, materials, processes, devices, and information to prevent, diagnose, and treat chronic diseases, and improve overall health.

The success of bioengineering in solving various health and body related riddles has made scientists believe this might be the panacea to reverse baldness and treat conditions like premature balding and alopecia resulting from radiation therapy to the head, chemotherapy, skin disease or drug therapy or even common pattern baldness.

The Challenges

Hair follicles grow hair, rest for a while, then shed the hair, and grow a new hair. This innate ability of the hair follicle to regenerate has encouraged researchers and scientists to explore the possibility of producing new hair follicles through tissue engineering and stem cell technology. But it is not easy and several challenges need to be met to find a wholesome bioengineering solution to depleted hair follicle woes. Some of these challenges are:

  • Though bioengineering involves harvesting new cells, the challenge in bioengineering hair follicles is not just to harvest healthy follicle cells, but in duplicating them so that they can produce hair the same way a natural hair follicle would.
  • The next challenge is to ensure the efficiency of hair follicle formation and the choice of cell type. The ratio of new hair follicles to donor hair follicles must be as high as possible to produce a clinically successful product.
  • Hair follicles not only contain new hair producing cells, but are home to other cell types, such as melanocytes and Merkel cells. The challenge is to make sure that these cells develop or are recruited to the new follicle.
  • The biggest challenge – to make sure that the follicles formed will cycle into producing new hair just as the natural ones do.
  • Also during the multiplication process the cells shed the genetic code that directs them to promote new hair follicles. Hence it is difficult to find enough cells that have the same genetic coding to use in extensively bald individuals.
  • A major technical hurdle that scientists and researchers face is defining the process of how the chemical signals that are responsible for development of epithelial buds, which are the stepping stones of hair follicle formation, act. Plus, how they signal the migration of stem cells and progenitor cells to areas where they are required, and how these cells are ultimately differentiated into the specialized cells of the layers of the hair follicle need to be defined.
  • Moreover scientists have yet not been successful in translating the success of animal models of folliculoneogenesis studies into humans and only after a successful clinical study can scientists say with conviction that bioengineering of the hair follicle is achievable.

All these challenges notwithstanding, scientists have understood quite clearly the principle molecular pathways activated during hair follicle embryogenesis and cycling. It is only a matter of time before this understanding will translate into new pharmaceutical agents that specifically target these pathways.

However, the complex timing and myriad gene expression changes required for orchestration of hair follicle development and cycling are likely to preclude a simple pharmaceutical approach to the treatment of advanced alopecia.