Photo/IllutrationHair follicle cells cultivated from human scalp cells hang by nylon threads to prevent the pores from closing after transplantation as well as to guide the growth of hair. (Provided by Riken research institute)

Researchers have developed the means to engineer mass regeneration of hair, which they said raises the prospect of a cure for baldness being commercially available as early as 2020.

The announcement promises to be a godsend for baldies everywhere, including the 18 million individuals in Japan afflicted by hair loss.

Scientists at the Riken research institute who teamed up with Organ Technologies Inc., a Tokyo-based medical business venture, said they hope to begin clinical trials in 2019 on men suffering from hair loss if no problems occur.

They announced June 4 the development of a way to mass produce hair created by cultivating scalp cells into hair follicles.

The research team is headed by Takashi Tsuji of Riken.

"The latest results indicate that we have gone beyond the research stage," Tsuji said. "Regenerative medicine for hair is an area of high social interest. We will seek to industrialize a technology born in Japan."

The research team has been involved in various technologies to deal with hair loss.

In 2012, the team cultivated human scalp cells and produced hair follicle cells. When the hair follicle cells were transplanted to the backs of hairless mice, hair started to sprout.

The latest development involves creating equipment that allows for more efficient mass production of such hair follicle cells, while ensuring that the integrity of three different types of stem cells taken from human scalp cells and used in the cultivation process is maintained. The technology allows for the hair to regenerate itself after being transplanted, meaning the hair growth cycle can be sustained.

Hair follicles that could produce 10,000 strands of hair were created after 20 days or so from 1 square centimeter of scalp.

From July, the research team plans to transplant the hair follicle cells to the backs of mice in order to confirm the safety of the technology. Researchers are keen to determine if any allergic reaction occurs or if tumors develop. If no problems emerge, clinical trials could get under way in 2019.

This raises the prospect of a commercial cure becoming available in 2020.