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Boffins from America and the UK are claiming success in the decades-long hunt to create new hair follicles: they've successfully grown follicles in the lab, on circumcised foreskins.

The Columbia University / Durham University group of biologists, geneticists and dermatologists took cells from newborns' foreskins, and grew them in a 3D culture, which they found allowed the cells to create new hair follicles.

As they explain in the abstract of a paper published at PNAS, the rapid transition of dermal papilla cells to a two-dimensional environment causes “early loss of their hair-inducing capacity”.

The researchers note that this kind of growth has long been observed in rodents, but never before in human cells: “rodent hair follicle-derived dermal cells can interact with local epithelia and induce de novo hair follicles in a variety of hairless recipient skin sites. However, multiple attempts to recapitulate this process in humans using human dermal papilla cells in human skin have failed, suggesting that human dermal papilla cells lose key inductive properties upon culture.”

The hair-inducing capacity, they write, can be at least partially restored by culturing altered cells in the 3D structure: “we show that human dermal papilla cells, when grown as spheroids, are capable of inducing de novo hair follicles in human skin”.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the cultures were grafted onto the backs of mice. Within six weeks, five out of the seven donor samples produced follicles. ®

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