Could Safe Person-to-Person Hair Transplants Be Possible Someday?
It often comes as a surprise to hair transplant patients that only their own hair can be transplanted, which is known as autologous transplant. While we call the hair being transplanted, “donor hair” or “donor follicles,” the donor is you. It typically comes from areas of the scalp that are resistant to DHT – usually the back of the scalp. The reason is your body would reject hair transplanted from another person, unless immunosuppressant drugs – which can have dangerous side effects – are used.
So, it came as quite a surprise to see a story out of South Korea about researchers successfully transplanting hair from another person, known as allogeneic transplant, without using an immunosuppressant. According to the story, “SNUH succeeds in allogeneic hair transplant without immunosuppressant,” a team at Seoul National University Hospital led by Professor Ohsang Kwon focused on a particular type of cell that is involved in the immune system, called ‘dendritic cells.’
At Arocha Hair Restoration, we have to admit that dendritic cells haven’t been top of mind, so it’s not surprising if this is the first you’ve heard of them. A recent story in the New York Times, “Scientists Are Teaching the Body to Accept New Organs,” examined medical advances in organ transplants and included a brief discussion of dendritic cells:
At Pittsburgh, the plan is to modify a different immune system cell, called regulatory dendritic cells. Like regulatory T cells, they are rare and enable the rest of the immune system to distinguish self from non-self.
One advantage of regulatory dendritic cells is that researchers do not have to isolate them and grow them in sufficient quantities. Instead, scientists can prod a more abundant type of cell — immature white blood cells — to turn into dendritic cells in petri dishes.
“It takes one week to generate dendritic cells,” Dr. Thomson said. In contrast, it can take weeks to grow enough regulatory T cells.
The regulatory T cells also have to remain in the bloodstream to control the immune response, while dendritic cells need not stay around long — they control the immune system during a brief journey through the circulation.
These advances could be very important for all types of organ transplants, and hair transplant patients could be among the beneficiaries.
Currently, the only way to get the body to accept a donated organ from another person is to silence the body’s natural immune response. The body identifies the presence of an outsider and attacks it the same way it attacks a virus. However, the immunosuppressant drugs are just plain hazardous. They increase the risks of a laundry list of ailments, including:
- Kidney failure
- High cholesterol levels
- Accelerated heart disease
In short, you don’t want to mess around with them unless you absolutely have to. If you are a person who needs a new liver or heart, obviously, the benefits of the new organ outweigh the risks associated with the side effects of the immunosuppressant drugs. However, a hair transplant patient isn’t in a life-or-death struggle, so immunosuppressants aren’t even considered.
Dendritic Cells Removed In Donor Hair Transplant Study
Professor Kwon’s theory was that since donor dendritic cells contribute to the body’s immune rejection of donor organs, removing the donor dendritic cells might lessen the rejection. Experimenting on two dozen mice subjects, Professor Kwon and his team removed all of the donor dendritic cells present in the donor hair follicles through the use of ultraviolet B irradiation. Once that was completed, the researchers transplanted the hair follicles onto different mice.
As time passed, the transplanted hair grew and there was no immune system rejection. While the idea of having unlimited donor hair to use is certainly exciting, there are several reasons to take a wait and see approach.
- First, Professor Kwon’s research has not been published by a journal. The fact that it hasn’t been peer reviewed yet suggests we may not be getting the full story.
- Second, these were experiments on mice, which sometimes don’t apply to humans.
- Third, this type of cellular manipulation is far outside the capabilities of the typical hair transplant practice and would be extremely costly. Even Kwon admitted that it would be a challenge to apply this process to clinical practice.
- And fourth, as pointed out on some of the hair loss chat boards that have caught wind of this, we take grain pride in providing natural and undetectable results, which requires that hair color and texture match the patient. Trying to find perfectly matching hair from one person to another would a challenge.
Will we see a future where you could request the hair follicles of actor Jason Momoa, voted 2018’s most handsome man? Perhaps, but I don’t think you should hold your breath. (Sorry about that Aquaman joke!)