ANNOUNCER: In 2003, hair transplant surgeons are very good at making the most out of a limited number of hair follicles. But researchers are trying to find ways to make more follicles for surgeons to work with.
ANGELA CHRISTIANO, PhD: Currently in hair transplant surgery, hair follicles are harvested from the back of the scalp. They're dissected there in the surgeon's office and they're re-implanted into the front of the scalp. The overall number of follicles stays the same; they're just moved from back to front.
ANNOUNCER: Research into cloning techniques shows it may be possible to create a virtually limitless supply of new follicles.
KEN WASHENIK, MD: Historically hair transplants were skin based with hair follicles in them. More recently we've done follicle-based, follicular unit transplants and we're now in the next generation, going to do cell-based transplants where you clone or multiply inductive cells from the root of a hair.
ANGELA CHRISTIANO, PhD: So the theory would be that we would harvest a few hairs from the back of the donor site, expand the cells in the lab, and then re-implant those cells into the front of the scalp to re-induce new follicles so that there would be an overall increase in the number of follicles.
ANNOUNCER: Cloning new hair follicles is one challenge. Another is making sure these implanted follicle cells stay put and grow hair in the right direction. Something like construction scaffolding may help.
KEN WASHENIK, MD: The thought is that if you take cells that can induce a new hair follicle and put them into a person's skin, they may not survive or they may not maintain the correct orientation and that a scaffolding or a matrix, a bioabsorbable matrix, would be necessary, like a sponge that has all the cells seeded into it so you could plant that scaffold intact and it will give some protection and some orientation to those inductive cells that you've placed.
ANNOUNCER: Initially, surgeons probably won't use cloned follicles to create a full head of hair. It's more likely they will first be used along with current transplantation techniques.
ROBERT BERNSTEIN, MD: The role of cloning and hair transplantation really depends upon how cloning technology evolves.
ROBERT BERNSTEIN, MD: So initially, cloning may actually be used to supplement a regular hair transplant. We may use a regular follicular unit transplant to give definition to a hair line basically frame the face and then use cloning to give the hair transplant bulk, maybe putting behind the transplanted hair.
ANNOUNCER: Research has shown surgeons how to make the most of a little in transplanting hair. But in the future, patients who have too little hair for transplants to start with may benefit from new techniques that turn one hair into many, allowing surgeons to create a full head of hair.