One of the world's leading hair loss researchers, American geneticist Angela Christiano PhD, has made many discoveries, from a new gene which regulates the hair growth cycle, to the fact that JAK inhibitors can be used to treat all forms of the autoimmune disorder, Alopecia Areata.
The latter is still in development and is proving extremely promising, with various patents attached to her work and licensed exclusively to the pharmaceutical company, Aclaris Therapeutics, though others from Pfizer to Concert Pharmaceuticals have also thrown their hats in the ring for the race to produce the first authorised JAK inhibitor-based Alopecia Areata treatment, since Christiano's initial discovery.
Now, another of her innovative projects involving genetic hair loss - a way to potentially prevent baldness by growing your own hair follicles ready to implant when needed - is making waves as it appears to be heading for human trials.
The Columbia University professor reveals details of her life, including developing Alopecia Areata herself, and her groundbreaking work, in a long interview with the college magazine, which is well worth reading.
One of the many interesting snippets includes information on the hair follicle replication technique she has been working on, with a view to developing a novel hair loss solution for androgenetic alopecia - more commonly known as Male Pattern Baldness and Female Pattern Hair Loss.
There are currently two clinically-proven, MHRA-licensed and FDA-approved hair loss treatments for these conditions. High strength minoxidil is a topical vasodilator and unisex medication which helps to promote accelerated hair growth; finasteride 1mg, meanwhile, is a one-a-day DHT-blocking tablet, suitable for men aged 18 and over, only.
Angela Christiano's has been working with a UK-based biologist, Colin Jahoda of Durham University, for the past 20 years and, together they have been applying their combined talents to an intense study of the causes of Male Pattern Hair Loss.
They believe this must involve more than simple genetics, and 'complex physiological factors' are likely also at play. Given the lack of solid evidence on which to base new potential treatments, Christiano and Jahoda decided to approach the problem from another angle: replicating people's hair follicles.
The pair hypothesized that, given the body is incapable of producing its own new hair follicles, if they were able to take a single hair follicle from a person's scalp then clone it and successfully implant these 'replicant' hair follicles - as with a regular hair transplant but without the need for more than a single donor hair - they could create a reliable method of preventing hair loss.
Given the hair follicles located around the back and sides of the scalp are immune to the effects of DHT - the hormone which causes follicular miniaturisation, leading to thinning hair and eventual hair loss in men and women with the relevant genetic predisposition - the donor would need to come from one of these spots.
It would also mean that the entire area from the crown to the hairline and temples, which is potentially affected, may need to have its follicles replaced over time, in order to maintain a good hair density. Otherwise current hair loss treatment courses could be used to help slow the deterioration of the predisposed follicles surrounding the new grafts.
Their teams are currently testing ways to reproduce hair follicles in vitro, graft them into hosts and are also exploring optimal storage conditions. As Columbia Magazine reports:
"Christiano and her team harvest the cultured follicles and implant them in artificial skin built in the lab. This skin nourishes the follicle, prodding from it a colorless, keratin-protein filament. The team then removes the productive follicle and grafts it onto the skin of a mouse. The result? Hair growing out of mice human hair.
Christiano expects to move these trials from mice to people in two to three years, bringing nearer the day when people can grow, in a lab, their own viable hair follicles a limitless supply of one’s own hair.
“From one, many,” Christiano says. “That’s a beautiful technology.” "
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