Abu Dhabi stem cell therapy aims to treat the root of hair loss

Doctors say initial results for hundreds of patients are encouraging

Dr Maysoon Al Karam, chief medical officer, and Dr Antonio Bencomo Hernandez, head of laboratory and advanced technology, at Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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A pioneering Abu Dhabi health centre is embracing cutting-edge technology in a mission to banish baldness.

Doctors at Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre say treatments which began at the start of the year are already showing promising results for hundreds of people experiencing hair loss.

The high-tech facility is driving innovation in health care to assist patients with a range of life-changing conditions, including cancer and multiple sclerosis, since opening in December 2019.

Now stem cells are being adopted to help halt hair loss – in men and women – and even encourage new growth of folicles.

It is important for patients to not wait long after they have started losing their hair
Dr Antonio Bencomo-Hernandez

Dr Antonio Bencomo-Hernandez, head of laboratory and advanced technology at centre, told The National that results are better for patients who have just started losing their hair.

“Every single day we have about 10 to 15 patients come in for stem cell hair therapy, so we have treated hundreds so far, given that we started this service at the beginning of this year.

"It is important for patients to not wait long after they have started losing their hair.”

Maysoon Al Karam, chief medical officer at the centre, said healthy patients in the early stages of hair loss are likely to benefit the most.

“It is an effective treatment, but it needs to be done in the right clinical setting and protocol," she said.

She said people should be wary of products promising miracle cures.

“Stem cells will not come in a bottle sold at the supermarket,” she said.

“I don’t know what these are but they definitely are not stem cells and it is important for people to not fall for it.”

How does the procedure work?

A few hairs, a maximum of 10, are extracted from the scalp and sent to a laboratory.

At the lab, stem cells are extracted from the hair follicles and processed before being injected back into bald spots.

Within three months, patients will start seeing new hair grow in these sites, doctors said.

They said it is essential that patients do not have any underlying health problems that are causing the hair loss or an unbalanced diet or vitamin deficiency.

If this is the case, these issues may need to be addressed before stem cell treatment can begin.

What is the success rate?

Since the procedure is in its infancy, the centre cannot guarantee the new hair will not fall out in subsequent years.

However, doctors are optimistic and said there has yet to be a case where newly grown hair has fallen out.

Stem cell treatment or traditional hair transplant?

Stem cell hair loss treatment and traditional hair transplants are very different. With traditional transplants, the healthcare provider takes grafts, or small pieces of skin, from parts of the body that contain healthy hair, such as the back of the scalp.

The grafts are then implanted on the hairless parts of the scalp. With stem cell treatments however, processed stem cells – taken from patients few days before – are implanted into the hair follicle so new hair can grow from them.

“The traditional hair transplant is a long procedure,” Dr Al Karam said.

With stem cell hair treatments, there is no recovery period and patients can resume daily activities immediately.

“Our treatment is innovative – women may need three sessions and men usually five sessions with 10 days between each session, but the number of sessions vary from case to case,” Dr Bencomo-Hernandez said.

Each session takes about 20 minutes, in which the stem cells are injected into the scalp. Doctors say the treatment is relatively painless.

The centre did not disclose the cost of individual therapies, but said its aim was to make it affordable to the general public.

"The treatment is personalised and therefore prices vary depending on the patient's clinical status.

"However, the access to this therapy is affordable and represents a better alternative to the high prices of hair transplant with promising results," Dr Al Karam said.

UAE is advancing stem cell therapy

The UAE has made significant strides in stem cell therapy, which is viewed as key to enhancing health care, particularly in cancer treatment and life expectancy.

In 2022, the UAE successfully completed a bone-marrow transplant by using longer-term cryogenic freezing of healthy cells.

Last month, the centre set out plans to become a regional hub in the treatment of diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and end-stage organ failure.

Scientists are working around the clock to use stem cells for repairing and regenerating organs.

Updated: August 10, 2023, 1:48 PM