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Scars improved using transplanted hair follicles

Image courtesy of Happybloom from Wikimedia Commons

Hair follicle transplants may help restore scar tissue to more normal skin function and appearance, according to the results of a small study from Imperial College London.

The researchers believe their findings could lead to improved treatments for both skin and internal scars. Published in Nature Regenerative Medicine, the study reports that hair follicle transplants facilitated tissue regeneration, actively remodelled fibrotic tissues, and led to expression of genes found in normal unscarred skin.

In collaboration with Dr. Francisco Jiménez, lead hair transplant surgeon at the Mediteknia Clinic and Associate Research Professor at University Fernando Pessoa Canarias in Gran Canaria, Spain, the Imperial group transplanted hair follicles into the mature scars on the scalp of three participants in 2017. They imaged 3 mm-thick biopsies of the scars prior to transplantation, and then again at two, four, and six months after transplantation.

According to a press release, the researchers determined the transplanted follicles produced profound architectural and genetic shifts in the scars toward the profile of healthy, uninjured skin. Among their findings, the epidermis doubled in thickness at six months post-transplant, the researchers report.

"This work has obvious applications in restoring people’s confidence, but our approach goes beyond the cosmetic as scar tissue can cause problems in all organs,” said lead author Dr. Claire Higgins of Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering, in the press release.

“While current treatments for scars like growth factors focus on single contributors to scarring, our new approach tackles multiple aspects, as the hair follicle likely delivers multiple growth factors all at once that remodel scar tissue. This lends further support to the use of treatments like hair transplantation that alter the very architecture and genetic expression of scars to restore function.”

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