Biotech companies are developing methods to reprogram hair cells. Genetic engineers and biologists have been studying hair loss problems for years and are now seeing their work bear fruit with the creation of cells that can recover our hair regrowth capabilities.
MIT Technology Review has reported that many startup companies are researching ways of using technological methods for growing human hair cells. These methods have gone beyond simple lab tests and have progressed as far as the transplantation of hair stem cells to animals. One such startup called dNovo has even published photos showing evidence of successful hair regrowth in mice. So, are we seeing the end of baldness once and for all?
Startups Are Changing the Hair Growth Industry
Ernesto Lujan, the Stanford University–trained biologist who founded dNovo, states that all types of cells including fat or blood cells can be programmed genetically to generate the components found in hair follicles. Even though its development is in the initial phases, Lujan believes that this technology has the potential to treat hair loss and baldness.
Usually, people are born with all the hair follicles in a normal state. However, the stem cells inside these follicles responsible for hair regrowth get damaged by changes in testosterone levels, ageing, genetic factors and diseases like cancer or even Coronavirus.
Losing stem cells means losing the ability to regrow hair. Lujan says that his company is focusing on developing a method for altering the genes of any cell to convert them into a stem cell. This means that they are challenging the definition of a cell from something with a ‘fixed identity’ to a ‘state’ that can be modified.
An Insight into Cell Reprogramming
Research into hair restoration is one small part of a technology that is challenging the symptoms of ageing. Altos Labs, a startup in Silicon Valley, is investigating whether humans can be rejuvenated with a similar type of cell reprogramming.
The root of these initiatives lies in a discovery made in the early 2000s when Japanese researchers uncovered a formula that could turn different tissue types into stem cells. Scientists were excited by the idea of producing endless amounts of any kind of cell.
However, the formula has its limitations in practical terms. Introducing these lab-grown cells into the body is challenging. Startups have used the reprogramming formula to treat real patients in just a handful of cases. While the intention is to collect healthy, ordinary cells (such as skin cells) from patients and turn them into hair-forming cells, that may yet be some way off in practice.
Stemson, a company similar to dNovo, has raised $22.5 million from funders to continue with the research and development. Geoff Hamilton, co-founder and CEO, states that his company has already successfully tested their transplanting technology in mice and pigs.
Lujan and Hamilton seem optimistic about the market and the success of this new technology. Statistics show that fifty per cent of men are affected by male-pattern baldness (MPB) with many starting to lose hair as early as their 20s. Women experience hair loss too, although with milder consequences. However, these companies are attempting novel high-tech solutions in an industry that has seen many false dawns.
Hamilton, in his recent speech at the Global Hair Loss Summit, emphasised that there is still a way to go before recent promising developments can provide a solution available to the masses. “We have seen so many [people] come in and say they have a solution. That has happened a lot in hair, and so I have to address that,” he says.
Presently, we have approved drugs for treating hair loss, but their use and effect is quite limited. There are also hair transplantation procedures where skin strips with hair follicles are cut and transplanted surgically into bald areas. A similar process may follow using lab-grown hair-forming cells that does away with the need to cut skin.
Growing hair follicle cells is truly challenging because they develop in a molecular crosstalk between several cell types. That’s why Karl Koehler, a professor at Harvard University, isn’t surprised to see pictures of mice developing human hair. “Anytime you see these images,” says Koehler, “there is always a trick, and some drawback to transplant it to humans.”
Koehler is also working on developing a hair growth solution in his lab. His solutions involve the growth of organoids — small blobs of cells that arrange themselves in a petri dish. He discovered organoids by chance while searching for deafness cures. Trying to regrow the hair-like cells in the inner ear, he was left with organoids turning into skin full of hair follicles. Since then, he has been experimenting with the creation of skin organoids in spherical shape which take around 150 days to grow.
The work done by biotech startups seems to offer a route to cure baldness without having to use strips of skin or regrowth serums. These are still early days, but there is proof that they are heading in the right direction. We might just need to wait a couple of years to see this solution reach the market.
The best way to treat your hair loss issues, for now, is to speak with a professional. Vinci Hair Clinic has clinics worldwide that deal with hair restoration problems. New clients can schedule a free consultation with one of our experts. Get in touch and book your appointment today!