Scientists develop gene therapy for baldness

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Research team, Skin

Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania say they may
have overcome one of hair care's biggest obstacles, by
developing a means of creating new hair cells on the skin of mice.

The research team said, in an article published in the journal Nature, that, in generating the new hair cells, it had defied previous belief that this feat was impossible. Likewise, the research team also says that the technology could help in formulating skin care products for wound-healing, a secondary research channel to the baldness study. The study found that, when the skin of mice is wounded, epidermal cells can respond by assuming the same properties as stem cells that generate hair follicles. This eventually led to the growth of new hair. The team believes that this discovery could mean that older men with established hair loss could eventually be treated to restore their hair successfully. The research team removed patches of skin from the mice and then studied the wounds as they healed during the course of several weeks. During this process, cells not previously associated with hair follicles began to express genes found in stem cells that can give way to hair follicles as they develop. The result was that in the samples, hair growth occurred regardless of the mouse's age. Although it was also noted that there was no pigment in the hair follicles. Further to this, the researchers found that the effect was boosted by using mice that had been genetically engineered to produce higher levels of proteins. These activate the genetic pathway underpinning the transformation of follicle stem cells. The genetically engineered mice then went on to develop twice the density of hair follicles to that found in the untreated mice. George Cotsarerlis, head of the research team, stated that he now wants to mimic this same process in human skin samples, envisaging a treatment similar to dermabrasion, combined with a topical cream to stimulate the proteins necessary to activate the genetic pathway. "It's all preliminary at the moment,"​ said Costsarelis. "If it all went perfectly then possibly in two to three years we would have a product, but that's very optimistic." ​ However, despite the relatively cautious outlook, the results of the study have given the team the confidence to form a company, Follica, which aims to spearhead bringing the treatment to market. In parallel to the potential baldness cure, the research team is investigating new insights into skin functions, highlighting the powers of regeneration on the back of the skin wound healing process. Currently there are a plethora of hair care solution that target baldness, including creams, lotions, shampoos, conditioners, as well as oral treatments like Finasteride and surgical treatments.

Related topics: Formulation & Science, Hair Care

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