PolarityTE

This week, there has been some excitement about a new company named PolarityTE (h/t BTT member “nickk” who first posted about this) that is planning to regenerate human skin (including fully functioning hair follicles). When I first saw the company’s website, I was not overly excited about such a start-up, since we already know of many other established companies that have been working on skin regeneration or skin replacement technology for years. I thought about just mentioning PolarityTE in my next “brief items of interest” post in another week, right next to a mention about L-Oreal’s EpiSkin and Matek’s EpiDerm that have also been in the news lately. Moreover, articles such as this one made the company sound sketchy to me, although I am no expert in the financial markets.

However, upon fully reading the lengthy Utah newspaper article on this local company and going through PolarityTE’s website in more detail, I decided it was worth writing an entire post on them. A few highly positive things stand out about the company:

  • The company’s young CEO, Dr. Denver Lough, was a plastic reconstruction surgeon at the respected Johns Hopkins Hospital.
  • The former head of the burn unit at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Stephen Milner (along with a few other colleagues), also moved over to the company’s headquarters at The University of Utah. Note that Dr. Milner previously also taught at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Remember them?
  • According to Dr. Lough, the company is “preparing to announce data that shows for the first time the ability to produce fully functioning, full-thickness skin with hair follicles in a swine model”. For once, a pig and not a rat!
  • In just a few more months, the company plans to conduct human studies at burn centers around the country. Commercial release is then planned for as soon as early next year.
  • Since the products are organic and autologous (“a combination of stem cells and biological growth factors”), no lengthy FDA clinical trials will be required.
  • On PolarityTEs website, one section has the following quote: “If successful in the burn market, we plan to explore entry into other markets, such as acute and chronic wounds, cosmetic/scar revisions, and hair regeneration“.

Note that the company’s ticker symbol is COOL🙂 For more information, make sure to read the detailed investor presentation on their website.

Will skin regeneration happen before a cure for hair loss? Or does skin regeneration with fully functioning hair follicles automatically imply that both will occur at around the same time? Or will neither happen in the near future?

Tregs and Hair Growth

In May, two new major hair loss related discoveries received widespread coverage in English language newspapers around the world. Not something you see regularly.

  1. I covered the first of these two stories at the top of my brief items of interest post two weeks ago. That discovery, about a protein in skin cells called Krox20 that impacts hair growth and pigmentation, came about accidentally via unrelated research on cancer at University of Texas Southwestern.
  2. The second discovery from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) was also accidental. Skin and immune cell related dermatological research led to surprising hair growth findings. This second development is summarized below.

Regulatory T Cells (Tregs)

The latest big development concerns regulatory T Cells (nicknamed “Tregs”) which modulate the immune system. In a new study led by Dr. Michael Rosenblum, it was found that Tregs are directly responsible for triggering stem cells in the skin to promote healthy hair growth. Historically, it was thought that hair growth was entirely related to stem cell activity. The new findings suggest that certain immune cells (i.e., Tregs) are also essential for hair growth and their is some sort of symbiotic communication between immune cells and hair cells.

Increasing Evidence that the Immune System Could Play a Role in all Types of Hair Loss

There have been several papers in recent years that have implicated the immune system in hair loss and hair growth. However, in general, scientist continue to believe that immune system defect and inflammation related hair loss only affects 2-3 percent of hair loss sufferers, and they label that type of hair loss as alopecia areata (AA). For the vast majority (>95 percent) of hair loss sufferers, male hormones (androgens) are causing their hair loss and the condition is therefore labeled as “male pattern baldness (MPB)” or “androgenetic alopecia (AGA)”. The immune system was until recently not thought to play any major role in AGA.

However, famous researcher Dr. Angela Christiano’s findings from Columbia University research in 2014 and 2015 changed all that. Her work implicated the immune system in both AA and AGA (albeit far more clearly in the former). Her team found that certain types of covalently bound topical JAK inhibitors (you can read many posts on that subject in the archives of this blog) led to hair regrowth in mice suffering from AGA and not just in those suffering from AA. Her AGA related patents were later sold to Aclaris Therapeutics, a company that plans to test topical JAK inhibitors on AGA in future.

Could Tregs also Play a Role in Male Pattern Baldness?

When I first read about this latest study from UCSF, it was in a few UK newspapers and the wording was sometimes a bit unclear when it comes to Tregs and non-alopecia areata type hair loss (e.g., “could also play a role in other types of hair loss”) .

However, later on I read the official UCSF press release article on this, and the below quote right from the horse’s mouth is extremely encouraging:

The new study – published online May 26 in Cell – suggests that defects in Tregs could be responsible for alopecia areata, a common autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss, and could potentially play a role in other forms of baldness, including male pattern baldness, Rosenblum said.

And another version from The Telegraph:

Tregs could also play a role in other forms of baldness, including the classic “male pattern” variety that causes men to recede and lose their hair, the team believes.

Addendum

For many years I have noticed that a large number of people (including myself) suffering from male pattern hair loss seem to also have major itching and dandruff episodes. Some on a daily basis. In the past, I have mentioned that if JAK inhibitors do ever work to treat AGA, there is a good chance they will work the best on people who have these itching symptom (since I would think that immune system attack and inflammation are probably at least partially responsible for the itching and skin flaking). Commentator “Netshed” started an interesting survey in the last post related to scalp itching, and he is welcome to re-post it here. I might do an official survey like that in future too.

A Hair Loss Blog