Developing new tools for growing skin and hair ex vivo
Hair loss can negatively affect a person's self-esteem, self-image and confidence, often leading to depression. As healthy humans age, some hair loss occurs in most adults. Hair loss often also accompanies scalp trauma either from physical wounding and burns or from chronic bacteria or fungal scalp infections. Hair loss is caused by irreversible changes to the hair-producing organ or follicle, which render it incapable of producing new hair.
A body's hair follicles are all generated during late foetal development and in newborns. To understand regeneration of hair follicles in adult animals, we need to understand hair development in the foetus.
At present, hair follicles cannot be reconstructed from laboratory-grown mouse or human cells. However, small pieces of mouse embryo skin can be laboratory-grown for a short period of time but hair development stops in these laboratory conditions.
This study is investigating a new technology to overcome this problem. Skin will be grown for a short time in the laboratory. This will be in the phase of growth before hair follicles start to form. During this period of time, techniques will be used to alter the genes, cells and chemical pathways in the developing skin tissue. Such techniques are impossible to apply when the foetus is inside the mother. The cultured skin tissues will be then be implanted into an avian (bird) embryo to enable full skin and hair development.
As well as reducing the need to use animals for research, this new technique will hopefully allow the addition of cells into the developing skin and the tracking of single skin cells during development. This will provide, for the first time, a method where cells modified in the laboratory can be rapidly tested in an appropriate and realistic model of hair development, thus significantly helping the search for a way to re-grow hair in humans with extensive and traumatic hair loss.
Wolfson fellows: Dr Carrie Ambler
Other Durham University researchers: Professor Colin Jahoda, Dr Ian Cummins
Keywords: skin and hair development, hair loss