In what may be welcome news for people going bald, Australian scientists are trying to use stem cells to grow a potentially endless supply of new hair.
If proved successful, cloning would overcome the limitations of existing hair-loss treatments.
Hair transplant surgery, for example, redistributes hair but does not create new hair. Drugs such as minoxidil and finasteride stop balding as long as they are taken but can't reverse it, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
In the latest study, scientists from St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne and Melbourne University, led by the hospital's dermatology director, Rod Sinclair, extracted adult stem cells from hair follicles. By this, they're trying to coax them to spawn new hair follicles in a culture dish.
"We've now got three stem cell scientists in our department working on hair follicle stem cells," Professor Sinclair said.
Sinclair said the stem cells were extracted from the base of the hair follicle.
"You can dissect out a tiny ball of about 3000 cells. If you put that ball into a culture dish that ball will flatten out into a thin sheet of cells," the expert said.
Ideally, that sheet of cells should "aggregate to form new balls [so] you can take out those balls and reimplant them to form new hairs." But the sheet of cells was producing one ball instead of many, he said.
"The state of play at the moment is that I can cut some hairs off the back of your head, grow them in culture, and get enough back to replace the hairs that I took from the back of your head. We can't amplify them to produce more hairs. That's the problem," he added.
The other challenge is implanting the baby hair follicles.
"You have to put the stem cells in a scaffold, insert the scaffold into the skin, the scaffold makes the hair follicle grow in the right orientation and direction, and then disintegrates.
"Growing a hair is not enough. You want one that grows in the right direction with the right colour and curl and wave so that it looks natural," Sinclair said.