Can hair loss be treated with stem cells?

Future Treatments

The University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine may have stumbled upon a revolutionary new treatment for hair loss. This treatment was stumbled upon in the sense that stimulating hair growth was not the initial goal of this particular study.

The study was initially intended to focus on the treatment of skin tumors by using stem cells. During this study, a protein inhibitor was isolated. This protein inhibitor is called Dkk1 and it has a direct correlation to hair growth. Dkk1 negatively affects the intracellular Wnt/ß-catenin pathway. In laymen’s terms, it means that the hair cells crucial for growth do not get the necessary protein, thus inhibiting hair growth.

Test and Control

While researching the stem cells applied to hair for regrowth, the team discovered that the introduction of Dkk1 did not actually kill the cells in the hair follicles. The Dkk1 only forced the cells to become dormant. To test the theory of the inhibitor affect, researchers removed the Dkk1 which allowed the stem cells within the hair follicles to become active once more, continuing a normal hair growth pattern.

Taking A Closer Look

The research team at the University of Pennsylvania further investigated the protein inhibitor, Dkk1 and discovered that it plays an extremely important role in the body. While Dkk1 can cause unwanted balding or poor hair growth in the scalp; Dkk1 is naturally occurring within the body and an absolute necessity. Dkk1 is what prevents hair from growing in crucial areas such as the palms, soles of the feet, and tongue. Imagine the dilemmas that could arise without Dkk1! Your sense to touch and taste would be askew… not to mention ruining aesthetic appeal of hairless palms! With Dkk1 occurring naturally in the body it is reasonable to suggest that naturally occurring Dkk1 may be causing baldness in some, which may be reversed by reactivating hair follicle cells that may be only lying dormant rather than being a lost cause.

Future Applications

Sara E. Miller, Ph.D. led the research team. She is a professor of dermatology and the University and focuses on the development of hair follicles, mammary gland and dental stem cells. She commented on the findings of this research by saying,

“While more research is needed to improve our understanding of this pathway, our results suggest that therapeutics capable of decreasing levels of Wnt/?-catenin signaling in the skin could potentially be used to block growth of unwanted hair, and/or to treat certain skin tumors. Conversely, if delivered in a limited, safe and controlled way, agents that activate Wnt signaling might be used to promote hair growth in dormant hair follicles in conditions such as male pattern baldness.”

As with all research findings, an applicable, complete treatment is still a ways off. Many things need to be isolated and verified before this concept is used in an absolute way. The Dkk1 effect on cell building will need to be discussed at greater length since it is considered both a nuisance and a benefit within different areas of the human body. As with any research related to altering cellular structure, adverse effects will have to be studied, established, and then weighed. If the risks end up outweighing the rewards, this may become a treatment best kept on the shelf; however, the discovery in itself is groundbreaking and lends a good amount of hope to all of those who are struggling with male pattern baldness or other hair loss issues.


By isolating Dkk1, which blocks hair growth, it is reasonable to assert that this may have a wide array of uses. One may consider applying this inhibitor artificially to intentionally stop unwanted hair growth in areas such as the face, arms, and legs. Another researcher may look at the isolation of Dkk1 as a means to correct balding and poorly growing hair by removing the naturally occurring Dkk1 from the scalp.


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