3D-printed hair might sound like a fringe approach to hair loss treatment – but it may not stay that way for long. In September 2016, L’Oreal and French bioprinting company Poietis partnered to develop laser-printed human hair follicles.
You read that right: we’re not talking about 3D-printed hairpieces, or some kind of synthetic hair. We’re talking about healthy hair follicles composed of living human cells, which can be transplanted directly into the scalp.
This offers an exciting opportunity for hair loss treatments, as the conventional methods for tissue engineering are limited and still being studied to determine how best to utilize this science.
Here’s how this technology is different from anything else on the market right now – and how it may prompt some new approaches to neogenic follicle transplants.
A few different groups are working on various kinds of 3D-printed hair “solutions.” An Italian company called Cesare Ragazzi Laboratories is developing what they call the CNC hair system. Which consists of 100% natural, unprocessed human hairs. The hair itself is not 3D printed, and the end product is not akin to a wig. Its known as a hair and scalp prosthesis.
This prosthesis is a medical-grade prosthesis which replicates the look of a client’s own natural hair and scalp. The CNC is not sewn to the scalp. It can be worn as a permanent attachment with a dermatology-tested medical adhesive.
Licensed CNC centers take exact measurements of a client’s scalp to create a mold. They also match a client’s exact scalp color, hair color, hairline, and hair pattern. All of this information is sent to Cesare Ragazzi Laboratories in Italy.
In Italy, a 39-step process takes place, including the use of 3D printing technology to produce a mold used to create the base on. The base of a CNC is made of a medical grade polymer. Artisans also hand inject virgin, non-processed human hair into the base.
The CNC has an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal base, which lets heat pass through, making it completely breathable. After receiving a CNC, clients visit a licensed center every month for maintenance, just as you would for a regular hair cut.
Meanwhile, a team at MIT is 3D-printing hair-like fibers with a diameter of 50 micrometers – about the average thickness of human hair – and though they haven’t announced any plans to use this technology in human hairpieces, that’s clearly an application with potential.
The project is known as Cilllia, and is inspiring many researchers to explore other ways of applying the power of 3D-printed strands, such as using these strong fibers to make a strong mechanical adhesive.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have also used 3D printing to produce hair-like structures. In this particular study, the researchers used a 3D printer that was purchased off the shelf rather than a specially designed printer. The researchers used a polylactide (PLA).
Once this glob of PLA is placed inside the printer, the printer head then works to create the hair. It’s a fairly slow, complex process, taking around 25 minutes to produce hair that covers a surface of 10 square millimeters. They also found that they can use various filaments to change the color of the strands, as seen below:
But that’s all artificial “hair,” composed of inorganic material. In other words, the best you’re going to get with any of it is a new-and-improved hairpiece.
This is what L’Oreal wants to correct, as everyone deserves the chance to have real hair, rather than synthetic fibers that can irritate the skin. The technology coming from Poietis is a whole different story, and one that could change the world of hair care for good!
Nobody’s ever succeeded in 3D printing living human hair follicles.
But the field of bioprinting has advanced by leaps and bounds since the Japanese professor Makoto Nakamura invented the first bioprinter in 2008. By December 2010, the company Organovo had created the first bioprinted blood vessels, using cells cultured from a human donor. Since then, other companies have bioprinted skin, muscle, and other types of tissue – and researchers keep making new advances every year.
Most bioprinting systems work by pushing cellular material onto a growth medium through a nozzle – a technique that’s very versatile, but puts a lot of stress on living matter.
Since hair follicles include some of the most sensitive and complex cellular structures in the human body, they tend to die quickly – or not survive at all – when printed with the nozzle method, as this is simply too invasive for such a delicate procedure.
Bioprinting nozzle from: http://3dprint 1
Poietis may have gotten around this problem by using a different technique.
Instead of pushing cellular material through a nozzle, their system creates 10,000 “micro-droplets” of cellular matter per second.
It then uses pulsing microscopic lasers to target the exact spot in the growth medium where each micro-droplet should go:
This technique minimizes damage to the cellular tissue – and Poietis has already had success 3D-printing human skin with lasers and micro-droplets. They’ve announced their plans to tackle hair follicles next.
L’Oreal isn’t putting all their eggs in one basket with Poietis. In May 2015, they announced a partnership with Organovo – the company that bioprinted the first 3D-printed human blood vessels back in 2010 – to 3D-print human skin tissue for “development and research.”
Organovo hasn’t announced any plans to 3D-print human hair follicles yet – but they’ve already had success 3D-printing human kidney tissue and liver cells. If their work on 3D-printed skin cells goes well, L’Oreal will clearly see the implications for hair follicle printing, too. Depending on the nature of L’Oreal’s agreement with Poietis, they may even be able to get the two companies to collaborate.
This could result in this technology being seen by the public sooner than expected.
As Alopecia UK spokeswoman Amy Johnson says, “It’s still very early days to be getting excited about what this potentially could mean for those with medical hair loss.”
All the same, it’s interesting to see a new and unique approach to neogenic follicles. Even if it takes a while for this research to have clinical applications, more knowledge and research in the field are always good news.
The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) were able to engineer a hair follicle model through combining two hair cells: the dermal papilla cell and keratinocytes. The hopes with this technology were to utilize this model to determine new hair loss treatments for men and for thinning hair in women.
In fact, the company was able to transplant this technology into mice. They discovered that the transplants were able to grow, resulting in natural-looking hair structures. This showcases that if enough time was spent on developing this, it could potentially turn into an option for humans suffering from baldness.
There are numerous challenges facing L’Oreal and Poietis before they arrive at their ultimate goal of being able to implant these bioengineered hair follicles into humans.
For one, these duplicated hair follicles would need to produce hair in the same manner as the natural hair follicle. This will mean numerous studies must take place to determine if this can be achieved.
In addition, scientists must determine how to ensure that these duplicated cells are going to continue to cycle once these follicles are implanted.
Another huge issue to overcome is finding cells that share the same genetic code in extensively bald individuals. Thus, it could make it nearly impossible for these hair follicles to generate to produce more hair. It is a learning process and researchers are already on the right track to making this a reality.
Many people believe that synthetic hair methods, such as those being used with the CNC hair system, are perfectly fine for humans.
However, synthetic hair is never going to look like real hair. Why is this? Synthetic hair is still a polymer, like a human hair. However, synthetic hair also utilizes a monofilament to provide the look of real hair.
In the end, while the newer technologies are showing hair that feels very life-like and moves in a natural way, it is still not real. The number of chemicals that go into making synthetic hair are complex, according to Yale National Initiative, but it is this chemical process that makes these hairs strong and more life-like.
3D printing these hair-like fibers is making the process much faster when compared to the chemical basis for the composition of synthetic hair. However, the 3D printer is working to put layers of plastic or metal on top of each other to make the strand.
Thus, there are still chemicals in these 3D printed versions of hair.
It is important to note that synthetic hairs, whether they’re worn in a wig fashion or weaved into an intricate scalp piece glued to the skull, can cause health issues for some people.
Those who are overly sensitive to numerous components will find they are at an increased risk of experiencing an allergic reaction. For example, there have been reports of headaches, especially when these hairs are sewn into the scalp.
There have also been those who experience severe itching of the scalp, often resulting in some sort of scalp infection. This is often due to the polymers that are used in development of these fibers.
According to a report from Consumer Reports, synthetic hairs can cause several issues. For those who utilize synthetic hairs as extensions for their thinning hair, they may find that this makes the problem worse.
As documented in the report, it is not uncommon for the thinning hair to break off or fall out completely, making a problem even worse. There have been reports of those who utilize synthetic hairs for extension purposes to have bald spots where this synthetic hair causes natural hairs to fall out.
And in most cases, this hair is not going to grow back, making a person bald prematurely.
It is for these reasons that L’Oreal and Poietis are teaming to use the latest technology to find an alternative method that will be better for all involved.
The technology that L’Oreal and Poeitis are working with is still a few years away from being perfect.
The director at L’Oreal’s Research and Innovation division, Jose Cotovio stated:
“If we manage to bio-print a hair follicle, we will enhance our knowledge of both hair biology and some of the masters of hair growth and loss”
The director added that once these hair follicles were successfully created, they would be used for testing new L’Oreal products.
Initially, L’Oreal hopes to use this technology as a way to test products that could help with hair loss naturally.
They hope that by determining what products could work in slowing down or stopping hair loss altogether, it could change the market for the better. The ultimate goal however, is to take these digitally designed hair follicles and implant them into those who are losing hair or who have lost all their hair.
The possibility of this occurring could be several years away.
The process would have to be approved by the FDA, and would more than likely be released in Europe first before coming to the United States. Many people who are following this technology and those researchers who are involved in similar studies believe the world is around three years away from this type of technology becoming available to the average consumer.
Amy Johnson, spokeswoman for Alopecia UK, a charity that is all about hair loss, stated:
“At this point it is unclear as to whether this technology could benefit those with all types of hair loss. Also, if this new technology did lead to a treatment option, given the high costs of existing hair transplant procedures, how many people would be able to realistically afford any new technological advances that may become available?”
These fears and cautions are sentiments that are echoing throughout the public. The public will have to wait and see how it goes. The technology is astounding and it could change the future of hair loss and how to treat it.
Although we are still years away from this becoming mainstream, the possible implications of this technology for those who are losing their hair or have gone completely bald are dramatic. This could put an end to the use of wigs and painful synthetic hair implementation sessions for good.
Kevin Rands is the Founder of HairLossTalk.com and President of Online Health Networks, Inc. a Miami based corporation providing consumer health education on the web. He is also the Founder and Principal Writer for DisrupterDaily.com, an online publication on disruption of health and tech sectors.
how is this just not a hair system?
@Evil Nick – hair systems are just someone else’s hair (or fake hair) worn on top of your head. Here we’re talking about your own genetically identical hair follicles “grown” (printed) and implanted into your scalp, behaving (regrowing) as your own natural hair.
@Kevin Rands – The CNC system doesn’t appear to use synthetic hair as you stated, rather real human hair like most hair replacement systems.
@jesuguru – You’re 100% correct. I have made the corrections to the article regarding the CNC Hair Systems. Thanks for pointing this out.
First, thank you kevin for this high quality article.
But I think that this solution is very artificial. Personally, I perfer the other natural methods of hair transplant.