New research: Hair follicle transplants could mend scars

It’s about to get sciencey… Researchers have found a brand-new way to fix scar tissue!

The Scar Free Foundation says that over 20 million people in the UK are affected by scarring. It causes loss of movement – resulting in the need for further operations, physio and treatment – and severe psychological challenges.  

Despite these figures, scars are often left to fall by the wayside, but that’s about to change. Scientists from Imperial College London have brought the treatment of scars into the limelight with a new regeneration study. 

Their answer to better scars? Hair follicle transplants. Here are the details…

What is a scar? 

To fully understand what the researchers have achieved, it’s important that we understand what exactly happens when a wound heals. The Scar Free Foundation says: ‘Scarring is the production of excessive amounts of connective tissue produced as the body reacts and repairs the wound. Our body’s priority is very much on fast wound closure rather than restoring the injured area to how it was previously. This imperfect process results in the creation of scar.’ 

This connective tissue is different to uninjured skin. It’s unable to grow hair and does not have sweat glands, blood vessels, or nerves. So, scars are not good at detecting pain or temperature - which is very important if we don’t want to get injured! 

What did the researchers at Imperial College find? 

Seven scientists worked together to prove that, if you transplant hair follicles onto scars, the tissue is able to remodel itself to act like uninjured skin again. Impressive, right?

To work this out, three male patients with four-year old, wide scars were invited to take part in a clinical trial. First, biopsies were taken on the tissues before hair follicles were transplanted onto their scars. 

Biopsies of the scars were taken again two, four, and six months after the transplant and they showed that the healthy hair follicles worked their magic. The research paper (published in Nature Regenerative Medicine) says: ‘We found that transplantation of anagen hair follicles leads to active remodelling of fibrotic tissue towards a healthy skin phenotype.’ 

Basically, the scars began to develop new cells and blood vessels. So, by the end of the trial they began to act like un-wounded skin. 

What does this mean? 

The scientists hope that this study will lay the foundation for further research into scar treatments. One of the authors says: ‘Our work opens new avenues for treating scars and could even change our approach to preventing them.’ 

Work in this area is needed because scars not only cause cosmetic changes but also long-term disability too. After all, a scar can sometimes mean the beginning of a health journey, not just the end of the healing process. 

So, keep your fingers crossed for more in the future!


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Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 6 January 2023
Next review: 6 January 2026