With this culturing method, in which 3-dimensional “spheroids”, i.e. balls of cells which secrete extracellular matrix (ECM), we are in the realm of absolutely cutting-edge science. Congratulations to Dr. Nigam for pursuing research of this technique for hair follicle generation. This is real science, as demonstrated by this article:
I believe the goal here is to create de novo follicles, not to regenerate existing miniaturized follicles, but I may be wrong, and it could have applications in both.
However, I just want to say that I believe Dr. Nigam is quite a way from forming new, fully functioning follicles with this technique.
(Please note: this does NOT reflect on his other work, i.e., culturing and injecting stem or progenitor cells, which is something quite different, and should be evaluated separately. My belief is that culturing and injecting stem/progenitor cells actually has much more potential in the near-term for patients, but even to confirm that, it will require more examination and the presentation of more clinical evidence.)
A hair follicle is actually an EXTREMELY complex mini-organ, containing many different types of specialized cells, all packed together in a structure that looks something like an elognated teardrop. Even within that elongated teardrop, which displays some radial symmetry, there is structural complexity. For instance, there’s a “puckered” area at the bottom, called the Dermal Papilla. There’s the “bulge”, located higher or more distally along the outer part of the follicle.
The different cell types each have their own mission and interact with each other in rather complex ways, through biochemical signaling and even mechanically, through proximity. Moreover, the positioning of each group of specialized cells, their 3-dimensional configuration within that elongated teardrop, has to be “just right” in order for the entire structure to work.
Think of it like this: A hair follicle is like a mini factory whose mission is to generate a terminal hair. Every functioning factory has a complicated, interlocking arrangement of parts. If even one of those important parts is missing, or if the arrangement deviates from what it should be, even by a little bit, the entire factory will not work, and its product will not be built.
Likewise with a hair follicle. You may create a 3D spheroid of cells, but that may not in itself be an adequate precursor to a hair follicle. The 3D spheroid may contain 1 or 2 of the different specialized cell types in a hair follicle. But does it have ALL of the cell types? And are they all configured perfectly, just like in a real hair follicle?
I’m just giving a broad overview here from what I know of cell and tissue biology. I am NOT an expert, and very possibly there is something I am not seeing.
I want to stress, though, that I think that this technique of creating 3D spheroids and proto-follicles has very big long-term potential. I think it will eventually be possible to engineer in vitro a functioning hair follicle in this way. But I think it will take a tremendous amount of work.
I just think that the task is very complicated and will not happen overnight. I’m just saying to people, don’t get too excited too fast!