Hair follicle transplants found to reduce scarring in breakthrough research by Imperial College London

The research has been carried out by Imperial College London  (PA)
The research has been carried out by Imperial College London (PA)

Researchers in London have heralded a breakthrough to reduce severe scarring after an accident or surgery.

Scientists from Imperial College found that using hair follicles in transplants helped to significantly restore scarred skin in three patients. Scarring can impair movement, cause physical discomfort and emotional distress.

Researchers from Imperial College London found that hair follicle transplants helped to significantly restore scarred skin in three patients, fuelling hopes of better treatment.

Scarring can impair movement and cause physical discomfort and emotional distress.

Hair follicles were transplanted into scars on the scalp of three participants. The researchers selected the most common type of scar, called normotrophic scars, which usually form after surgery.

Researchers took and microscope imaged 3mm-thick biopsies of the scars just before transplantation, and then again at two, four, and six months afterwards.

They found that the skin scars began to behave more like uninjured skin after the transplant. Follicles continued to produce hair and induced restoration across layers.

Hairy skin heals faster and scars less than non-hairy skin– and hair transplants had previously been shown to aid wound healing.

The scarred skin that received a hair transplant in the trial was also found to harbour new cells and blood vessels, remodelled collagen to restore healthy patterns, and expressed genes found in healthy unscarred skin.

Skin does not regain its pre-wound functions after scarring and previous efforts to remodel scars have yielded poor results, the study’s lead author Dr Claire Higgins said.

Dr Higgins said: “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 our organs.

“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.”

The study is published today in Nature Regenerative Medicine.

Imperial researchers worked with Dr Francisco Jiménez, lead hair transplant surgeon at the Mediteknia Clinic and Associate Research Professor at University Fernando Pessoa Canarias, in Gran Canaria during their research.