caused by the genetic conditions Male Pattern Baldness
and Female Pattern Hair Loss
happens because of an hereditary anomaly that makes hair follicles sensitive to an enzyme in the body which can obstruct their normal functioning. Given that this propensity is pre-programmed through individuals’ DNA, the question “can we turn it off at a genetic level?” is one that has captivated the medical community.
Hot on the heels of a headline-grabbing genetic editing technique named CRISPR that has rocked the medical world, a Chinese professor and his team may have gone one better, with a variant gene-editing technique that some say is superior. Experts now think it will soon be possible to edit the genome so that androgenetic alopecia (hereditary hair loss) could be eliminated.
Regain hair through genetic repair
The scientist, Han Chunyu (pictured), an associate professor at the Hebei University of Science and Technology in northern China, told reporters: "With this technique, middle-aged men with bald heads can probably regain their hair through genetic repair.
The website of the country’s China Radio International (CRI) station, states that the new technique has been named NgAgo, and that “experts said the finding’s potential is expected to surpass the CRISPR technology, which is recognised as a favourite for the upcoming Nobel Prize.”
stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, and is a much-celebrated new genome-editing tool that is steadily revolutionising biology. Its public awareness received a huge boost after media reports on how this technique was named 2015's 'Breakthrough of the Year' by the prestigious Science journal.
The Gizmodo website reported last summer that, “The past few years have seen a flurry of ‘firsts’ with CRISPR, from creating monkeys with targeted mutations to preventing HIV infection in human cells.” It went on to explain that CRISPR is actually a “naturally-occurring, ancient defense mechanism found in a wide range of bacteria.”
The Nature Journal
added: “What CRISPR offers, and biologists desire, is specificity: the ability to target and study particular DNA sequences in the vast expanse of a genome.”
If Mr Chunyu’s gene-editing technique is indeed superior to CRISPR, the possibilities seem endless - and not just for treating genetic hair loss conditions
. China Radio International states that “one of the advantages is that it does not cause cancer unlike CRISPR technology that could cause the disease.” However, it is unclear where they got this information regarding CRISPR being a potential cause of cancer from, as no source was quoted and we are unaware of this detail having been previously reported.
Writing on his blog ipsell.com, biomedical scientist Dr Paul Knoepfler says: “While NgAgo is indeed a nifty new genome editing technology , it’s not going to immediately race ahead of CRISPR… not yet any way. Still, it’s got people buzzing.”
World's 'moral compass'
The coming months and years will likely see ever more applications of this technology in fact at the time of writing, a Federal Safety Board was due to meet in the US to consider its first human use. However, regulatory red-tape and the guardians of the world’s ‘moral compass’ will certainly play a big part in determining exactly how ‘genetic tinkering’ plays out. As a result, any widespread application of this type of technique being used as a viable hair loss solution is definitely a long way off yet.
At present there already two established treatments for pattern hair loss which are clinically-proven and recognised by the UK's and USA's medical regulatory boards, being both MHRA licensed and FDA approved for this purpose.
The first is the oral tablet, finasteride 1mg
is suitable for men aged 18+ only and is taken daily to inhibit the formation of DHT
- the enzyme in the body which has no real purpose following puberty but latches on to hair follicles around the top of the head in people who are predisposed to genetic hair loss, causing the hairs to gradually thin and fall out. This is why men tend to see defined areas of hairloss - such as a thinning crown
or a receding hairline
- while women generally experience a more diffuse hair thinning across the whole of the top of the scalp.
The second is high strength minoxidil
which comes in a range of formulations that are all applied directly to the scalp, either once or twice per day as advised
. This is suitable for both men and women with genetic hair loss and is designed to actively promote hair growth.
Men can choose to use either of these two products or both simultaneously, assuming they are deemed medically-suitable to do so. Furthermore, men and women can supplement their pharmaceutical choices with various hair growth supporting products
from highly-targeted nutritional food supplements to follicle-stimulating low-level laser therapy, delivered via FDA-cleared devices.
For anyone worried about losing their hair or seeing a drop in their overall hair volume, a consultation with a hair loss specialist can not only help to provide them with a diagnosis and personalised treatment recommendations based on their findings, but taking this pro-active step and understand that help is available, can also bring peace of mind.