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How a Cure for Baldness May Be Good for Animals

Stem cell experiments may bring an end to much animal testing

The news that researchers in Germany have grown the world’s first hair follicle using stem cells is not just good news for men losing their hair; it’s potentially very good news for animals in laboratory experiments.

Developed using stem cells, the hair follicle created by bioengineers at Berlin’s Technical University is thinner than a normal scalp follicle, but it will provide both hair implant possibilities and end the need for millions of animal tests in the future, according to a report in the German newspaper Die Welt.

Created by bioengineer and doctor, Roland Lauster and his team, the hair follicle can be used to research the causes of hair loss, and clinical studies may prove it to be more effective for implants than hair transplants.

“Preparations for this are already in motion,” Lauster told Die Welt.

Additional purposes may include research on hair growth, structure and pigmentation, as well as the effects of toxic substances.

This is not only good news for people with hair loss; it’s potentially very good news for animals. That’s because millions of animals – more of them than ever – are still being used to test cosmetics.

“Since 1950, the development of new chemicals has gone up 500-fold, and so has the number of animal tests for the licensing of these,” Lauster said. And skin and hair follicles created in a lab could replace the need for test animals.

This could be the thin end of a very fat wedge, since hair follicles are potentially just the start of switching from testing on animals to testing on synthesized organs.

The professor plans to establish a hair follicle test system, then move on to creating a miniature liver, kidney and bone marrow to form a multi-organ biochip to test pharmaceutical and cosmetic substances.

“Building large organs such as complete livers or kidneys has not yet worked, but miniature organs have,” Lauster told the paper.

In the future, hundreds of these biochips could be used to “quickly and safely” test the toxic effects of hundreds of substances, he added.

And no animals would be involved.