Lifechanging hair treatment could regrow 90% of lost hair

Researchers from North Carolina State University have identified a microRNA, miR-218-5p, that could potentially revolutionize hair regeneration treatments.

Hair loss affects millions of people worldwide, and current treatments for hair loss can be costly and ineffective.

Hair loss affects millions of people worldwide, and current treatments for hair loss can be costly and ineffective. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Researchers from North Carolina State University have identified a microRNA, miR-218-5p, that could potentially revolutionize hair regeneration treatments. This microRNA plays a crucial role in regulating the pathway involved in follicle regeneration, making it a promising candidate for future drug development.

Hair loss affects millions globally and current treatments can be both costly and ineffective. These treatments range from invasive surgery to chemical applications, often failing to deliver the desired results. Recent studies have revealed that hair follicles don't disappear in balding areas; instead, they shrink. If dermal papilla (DP) cells could be replenished in these areas, hair follicles might recover their function.

A team led by Ke Cheng, Randall B. Terry, Jr. Distinguished Professor in Regenerative Medicine at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine and professor in the NC State/UNC Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, has been focusing on this challenge. They cultured DP cells in two environments: a standard 2D culture and a 3D spheroid setup. The 3D spheroids replicate a cell’s natural microenvironment more effectively.

The preparation and characterization of 3D DP spheroids. Isolation of mouse dermal papilla (DP) cells from vibrissae. Scale bar, 500 μm. (CREDIT: Ke Cheng, NC State University)

In a mouse model, the team compared hair regrowth among three treatments: 2D cultured DP cells, 3D spheroid-cultured DP cells in a keratin scaffold, and the commercial hair loss treatment Minoxidil. The results were remarkable. In a 20-day trial, mice treated with the 3D spheroid DP cells achieved 90% hair coverage by day 15.

“The 3D cells in a keratin scaffold performed best, as the spheroid mimics the hair microenvironment and the keratin scaffold acts as an anchor to keep them at the site where they are needed,” Cheng explained.

The study revealed that exosomes from the 3D spheroid-cultured DP cells contain miR-218-5p. This microRNA enhances the molecular pathway that promotes hair follicle growth. Increasing miR-218-5p levels stimulated hair follicle growth, while inhibiting it caused the follicles to lose function.

Effects of exosome treatment on dorsal hair regrowth. (A) Mice were divided into three groups (n = 4) and treated on their left sides. Mice were imaged on days 10 and 15, respectively. (CREDIT: Ke Cheng, NC State University)

“Cell therapy with the 3D cells could be an effective treatment for baldness, but you have to grow, expand, preserve and inject those cells into the area,” Cheng said. “MiRNAs, on the other hand, can be utilized in small molecule-based drugs. So potentially you could create a cream or lotion that has a similar effect with many fewer problems. Future studies will focus on using just this miRNA to promote hair growth.”

The Emotional Impact of Hair Loss

Hair loss affects millions of people, causing both physical and psychological distress. It can result from genetics, hormonal changes, medications, or medical conditions, leading to insecurity and low self-esteem. While treatments like minoxidil and finasteride can slow or halt hair loss, they do not always result in regrowth. Hair transplant surgery, though an option, is expensive and carries risks such as scarring and infection.

The potential impact of this research is significant. Hair loss can profoundly affect an individual's self-esteem and quality of life. Developing new and effective treatments can improve the lives of millions.

Identifying miR-218-5p as a candidate for drug development marks an important step forward. The next steps involve conducting further studies to determine the safety and efficacy of miR-218-5p-based treatments for hair loss. The hope is to create treatments that are less invasive and more effective than current options, offering new hope to those affected by hair loss.

The research by North Carolina State University on miR-218-5p opens new avenues for treating hair loss. By focusing on the molecular pathways involved in hair follicle regeneration, this study provides a promising outlook for developing non-invasive treatments that could significantly improve the quality of life for millions suffering from hair loss.

The research appears in Science Advances, and was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association. Cheng is corresponding author. Postdoctoral researcher Shiqi Hu is first author.

This study was performed, in part, at the Analytical Instrumentation Facility (AIF) at North Carolina State University, which is supported by the State of North Carolina and the NSF (award number ECCS-1542015).

This work made use of instrumentation at AIF acquired with the support from the NSF (DMR-1726294). The AIF is a member of the North Carolina Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network (RTNN), a site within the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI).

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Joseph Shavit
Joseph ShavitSpace, Technology and Medical News Writer
Joseph Shavit is the head science news writer with a passion for communicating complex scientific discoveries to a broad audience. With a strong background in both science, business, product management, media leadership and entrepreneurship, Joseph possesses the unique ability to bridge the gap between business and technology, making intricate scientific concepts accessible and engaging to readers of all backgrounds.