Androgenic alopecia, more commonly known as pattern hair loss or pattern baldness, is an extremely common form of hair loss. Four out of 5 men and 2 out of 5 women under the age of 70 have hair loss due to androgenic alopecia (aka androgenetic alopecia). While this form of hair loss is not deadly, or even dangerous, it can cause substantial amounts of personal suffering, low self-esteem, and diminished quality of life. Indeed, most people with androgenic alopecia or pattern hair loss would much rather stop their hair loss and cure their baldness.
Unfortunately, there are few effective treatments for androgenic alopecia. Patients may choose to use topical medication, minoxidil. Men can use the drug finasteride. Neither of these agents is very effective for many people who try them. Some patients with pattern baldness opt for surgery. Surgical hair loss treatment can be helpful for men who have receding hairlines, but it is of little to no use in patients with diffusely thinning hair, which is most often the case in women affected by androgenic alopecia.
Scientists have turned to stem cell therapy for hair loss for a few reasons. First, the current medical and surgical treatment options are largely ineffective. Second, stem cell treatment has been shown to be safe in many scientific and clinical studies. Third and perhaps most importantly, androgenic alopecia is caused, in part, by problems with natural stem cell function. Immune cells (lymphocytes and mast cells) can be found in the area around each hair follicle, specifically in the “knot zone” which is where most hair follicle stem cells reside. These immune cells and hormonal factors likely interfere with hair follicle stem cell function—the number of hair follicle stem cells stays the same in pattern baldness, but the ability of progenitor cells to multiply is greatly reduced. Natural stem cells in people with androgenic alopecia do not produce the same levels of substances that support hair growth and renewal. In short, patients with pattern baldness may benefit from stem cell treatment.
Researchers are strenuously pursuing this line of research. One promising approach is to apply stem cells (fat and stromal vascular fraction cells) directly to the balding areas of the scalp. For example, Dr. Shin and colleagues used stem cells on 27 women with pattern baldness and showed increased hair thickness and density 12 weeks after treatment. Another approach is to use exosomes from these stem cells to treat hair loss. Exosomes are released by stem cells, contain virtually all the beneficial molecules that stem cells produce and can be applied to the scalp without surgery.
The field of stem cell treatment for pattern hair loss is growing rapidly. As more clinical trials are published, we move closer to a time in with stem cell and stem cell exosome treatment for androgenic alopecia becomes a reality.