What is hair cloning?
Hair cloning technology has been around for decades, with Dolly the Sheep being cloned in 1996. However, with advances in biotechnology come ethical implications, as countries continue to debate the merits of cloning in its various forms, including animal cloning, organ cloning, and the cloning of humans. In regards to hair loss and cloning, hair follicle cloning is a technology that is a possibility in the not-too-distant future. While many people who suffer from hair loss turn to ointments, creams, pills, and even laser therapy in some cases, others even resort to hair transplantation surgery as a last resort. The problem with hair transplantation is that finding a donor can prove arduous or even impossible in some cases, and the procedure is also very expensive and can prove fatal in some cases.
As of today, doctors who perform hair transplants extract a clump or hair from the back of the patient’s head and then remove an epidermal layer of skin from the patient. The hair used in the procedure only includes follicles that have not been ravaged by the effects of DHT-an androgen hormone and sex steroid that is found in abundance in most men. Next, the layer of skin that is covered in hair is used as the designated “donor area”, whereby the follicles found on the strip are translated to the front of the patient’s scalp to help replace lost hair. The problem with current scalping procedures is that not only are they generally unpleasant but they are very limited in terms of their hair loss coverage. Those who suffer from hair loss do not have copious amounts of hair to work with, generally leading to patient dissatisfaction because they lack the hair density to facilitate a truly successful transplant.
This is where hair cloning comes in. With hair cloning, scientists would literally have an unlimited supply of hair to work with. Furthermore, the patients would not have to worry about a very painful scalping procedure that carries many post-operative risks and complications; including epidermal conditions, infections, and ingrown hairs. Fortunately, with recent advances in stem cell research, scalping may become a thing of the past.
Hair follicles during cloning
In regards to hair follicles, each hair follicle is formed via an intricate and complex interaction between epidermal and dermal tissues. In fact, scientists today are still not certain as to how these mechanisms interact to catalyse follicular genesis, nor can they ascertain how the cyclical nature of follicular growth, death, and regeneration truly works. As a result, for hair cloning to become a resounding success, scientists will need to produce follicles in the lab that can emulate the embryonic development stages that normal hair follicles go through during their early formation.
As for stem cells, they are considered a scientific marvel because they have unlimited divisional capacities and can foster organisms that can differentiate into a plethora of cell types. For instance, totipotent stem cells have an unlimited capacity and consist of the first few cells that form via a zygote. Embryonic hair cells, or EHCs, also have an unlimited capacity, and can be used in hair cloning procedures. However, unlike totipotent stem cells, they are not capable of generating an entirely novel specimen. Moreover, multipotent stem cells are cells that are extracted from an adult organism. What makes multipotent stem cells unique is that they are far more specialized than their stem cell counterparts, and under conventional conditions, will only prove effective towards a given tissue type. In regards to hair, these stem cells could consist of stem cells extracted from hair follicles that are localized in the bulge region, making them the most probable choice for hair cloning at the moment.
Skin cells and hair cloning
Interestingly, there are currently many molecular markers of the aforementioned cell types, allowing scientists to use highly specialized tools to identify these cells. As a result, scientists can isolate “pure” bulge stem cells from the other types of skin cells in the human body. For instance, scientists can use these cellular marking and dichotomic technologies on the dermal sheaths and dermal papilla of hair follicles, allowing for the possibility of hair cloning. In addition, by only using the resulting pure cell cultures, scientists can also genetically modify the cells if needed. For instance, male pattern baldness can be cured by introducing specific genes into the cells in order to remedy physiological impairments or abnormalities on a molecular level.
It is important to note, however, that simply cloning a hair follicle will not effectively treat hair loss. As previously mentioned, hair follicles are highly intricate and complex, and many factors need to be taken into consideration, including hair fibers, and the concluding product of its activity. In other words, cloning hair follicles is just the first step towards treating hair loss via cloning. The next step is to get these cloned hair follicles to produce subsequent hair follicles with characteristics similar to the original follicles. Angles, symmetry, skin direction, skin location, sebaceous gland formation, and pigmentation-which is the result of the location and activity of melanocytes-yet another cell type, need to be taken into consideration before successful hair cloning can become a real possibility. In addition, many scientists believe that it is the dermal papilla that plays the pivotal role in hair cycling. However, it is still unknown as to which specific molecules actually control the cyclical process. Ergo, while hair cloning is a possibility in the future, there is still much to be learned about stem cell variants, their interactions, and the bevy of pragmatic cellular mechanisms that are involved in follicular generation and xenotypes.
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