He may not be very pretty to look at but does this bristly mouse hold the secret cure to baldness AND grey hair
18:10 GMT, 17 April 2012
As if the thought of curing baldness wasn't exciting enough, scientists say they may also have found a way of saying goodbye to grey.
In a two-in-one experiment, they have found a way of growing hair and of making it pigmented.
Their success has been on mice but they hope to test the technique on men for the first time in as little as three years.
And within a decade, the treatment could be in widespread use.
Hair he is: This picture shows tufts of hair grown from stem cells on the back of a bald mouse, which Japanese researchers have been testing to try and find a cure for baldness with coloured hairs
British experts have commended the Japanese researchers, saying they seem to have cracked a problem that has baffled scientists for decades.
More than 7million British men are bald or balding, and while many are perfectly happy, those who aren't face limited options.
The breakthrough centres on stem cells, 'blank' cells with the ability to turn into other cell types, and follicles, the tiny pouches that sprout hairs.
The scientists, from the Tokyo University of Science, took two types of skin stem cell, which together contain all the instructions for a hair follicle and grew them in the lab, until they formed immature follicles.
These were then implanted in on the backs of hairless mice and, within two to three weeks, they sprouted hairs. The technique was also used to grow whiskers.
Excitingly, the mice also grew tufts of hair when human stem cells, gleaned from the scalp of a balding man were used, the journal Nature Communications reports.
Hair growth: This close up picture shows hairs grown from stem cells on the back of a bald mouse
In future, stem cells could be extracted from a sample of skin taken from a man's scalp and grown into healthy follicles.
Tens of thousands could then be grown in the lab before being injected back into a bald patch.
The research team also showed that by including a particular type of stem cell in the mix, it is possible to produce hair that is coloured rather than white.
This would mean that men who take advantage of the treatment may have their hairline – and colour – of their youth.
It may also be possible to create a treatment for those men who have gone grey but are not thin on top.
The researchers said: 'We expect that our technologies will help to restore colour to grey hair. We think that the person's natural colour will be reproduced by our technology in the future.'
However, such rejuvenation won't come cheap, with the stem cell treatment expected to cost thousands of pounds.
David Fenton, a consultant dermatologist at hair loss expert at St Thomas' Hospital in London, said it seemed the Japanese researchers had cracked a problem that has puzzled others for decades.
He said that the 'very elegant and beautifully done' research would likely be of most benefit to burns patients and people with bad scarring over much of their scalp.
This is because unlike balding men, they may not have the option of a conventional hair transplant, in which a strip of hairs and follicles from one part of the scalp are used to pep up another part.
However, Dr Fenton stressed that it is as yet unclear how natural the hair will look, how long the treatment will last and, indeed, how safe it is.