Lingering concerns that DNA tinkering could lead to designer babies means that the genetic science industry is watched over like a hawk, but to say that we will never be allowed to influence which genes are passed onto our children is probably wide of the mark.
While blue-eyed or blonde-haired babies may never be available on demand, it seems inevitable that future generations will be screened for deadly diseases and life-changing conditions before they are born so that necessary steps can be taken to put right nature’s wrongs. And one day both male and female hereditary hair loss
may be included on that list.
Breakthrough of the year
The topic of gene-editing was back in the news recently when The Daily Mail
reported on what Science magazine has hailed as “The Breakthrough of the Year” for 2015 - a DNA-altering technique known as CRISPR. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly-Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats and scientists say that if administered by injection possibly later in life, as needed, and not just in babies it could be a very precise and easy way of “turning off” unwanted genetic traits.
In what is being hailed as the first study of its kind, a test by Duke University
, North Carolina, showed how adult mice with muscular dystrophy were injected using CRISPR technology and saw their muscles grow stronger. The goal, according to the University’s Charles Gersbach, is that the technology will one day become available to humans and that “this would be a one-time treatment.
In a quick explainer on the Mail’s website, the newspaper says that “CRISPR technology precisely changes target parts of genetic code. Unlike other gene-silencing tools, it targets the genome’s source material and permanently turns off genes at the DNA level.”
Where this is of particular interest to hair loss specialists is in its possible future application for people with the genetic conditions Male Pattern Baldness
and the women's equivalent, Female Pattern Hair Loss
, together known as Androgenetic Alopecia.
Dealing with genetic hair loss
People who lose hair to genetic hair loss
do so because they have a predisposed sensitivity to something called DHT
, a by-product of testosterone. DHT restricts the follicles’ ability to produce healthy hair. By attacking them and weakening existing hair, the DHT causes hair thinning and, over time, can lead to baldness in men, whilst women's hair loss tends to display as intense thinning concentrated around the top of the head where the DHT attacks both sexes.
Whilst effective, clinically-proven and MHRA licensed plus FDA approved hair loss treatments
exist for these types of inherited conditions, the Holy Grail for men and women around the world would be to know that the genes which would be likely to make them lose hair had been safely “switched off.”
A technique such as CRISPR could offer just such a solution. Given that Androgenetic Alopecia
is the most common cause of hair loss in the world, an injection that could stop it from developing, that was administered at birth or even in later life would undoubtedly be of interest to millions.
There are likely to be great numbers of obstacles in CRISPR's way before doctors are able to “weed out” problematic genes such as those associated with genetic hair loss but the scientists in North Carolina have stated that their long-term goal is to undertake clinical trials to test the technology’s efficacy.
Whilst there are a number of clinical trials underway looking to develop the hair loss treatments of the future
, if science allows us to prevent the condition from occurring in the first place - assuming it is deemed both safe and effective - this is likely to be a popular remedy. However, as CRISPR has not yet begun clinical testing, it is likely to be a number of years before any tangible updates are available on this, particularly in relation to hair loss.