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It seems you can’t turn on the news these days without hearing something about stem cell science, touted as the next big thing in medicine. Could it also hold the key for male pattern baldness? Stay tuned to find out.
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So unless you live completely cut off from the media, it’s hard not to hear about stem cells. It seems like every time you turn on the TV or radio there will be some new story on the latest exciting stem cell research, religious controversies, protests, legislation, you name it.
Setting the controversy aside, stem cell therapy is already being used for a number of conditions, most notably various blood cancers, and is being touted as possibly holding the key to other currently incurable conditions like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and even blindness.
Could stem cells also one day be used to treat male pattern baldness? We’ll be exploring this in today’s video. But before anything else, let’s see, in very simple terms, what stem cells are.
What are stem cells?
So after a sperm has fertilized an egg inside the uterus to produce the first cell of the future baby, this cell will then go on to divide into two cells. The two cells then divide into four cells and so on, and all these early embryonic cells are seemingly identical in appearance.
After the first few divisions, when the embryo has reached a ball-like mass of around 150 to 200 identical-looking cells, the individual cells lose the ability to create a new embryo. So if you were to extract one of these cells you wouldn’t be able to get another baby out of it, no matter how you treat the cell.
These early cells do, however, retain the ability to develop into any cell in the human body. They are accordingly called embryonic stem cells. Theoretically an embryonic stem cell can, if treated properly, reproduce and differentiate into any of the highly variable and specialized cells in the body: it can become a kidney cell, a brain cell, a liver cell, you name it.
The other class of stem cells are called adult stem cells. As the name suggests, these are undifferentiated cells found in a developed human being, located in the particular tissue or organ where they reside. Adult stem cells can only develop into one of the cell types that belong to that particular organ.
For example adult stem cells that are in your brain have the potential to differentiate into any of the types of cells you find in the brain, like neurons, astrocytes etc. But a brain adult stem cell cannot, no matter how much we treat it, give rise to, for example, lung or skin cells.
Why are they so important?
It is precisely this ability of stem cells to differentiate and generate all sorts of cells we find in the human body that makes them so important for medical research. And very conveniently, under the right conditions, stem cells can keep on reproducing in their undifferentiated state for as long as scientists and doctors need them to.
An example of just how versatile and useful stem cells are is their use in a variety of blood cancers. Patients with various types of blood cancer are prescribed high doses of toxic chemotherapy to kill off the malignant blood cancer cells, but in their process their immune system is devastated as a side effect of the chemotherapy.
So blood stem cells from the bone marrow or blood stream are transplanted into patients whose immune system is at the point of collapse, they regenerate themselves, and the patient is essentially given a new immune system. The stem cells can come from the patients themselves or from another donor.
Can stem cells be used against male pattern baldness?
The adult stem cells for our hair follicles, both on the scalp and the rest of the body, are found in the region called the bulge, which is where the arrector pili muscle meets the follicle.
These stem cells provide the entire follicle with new cells, but they can also be called to action for the creation of new cells in the outer skin layer in the event of a wound.
This video is for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any disease.