Scientists led by Dr. Alexey Terskikh at the California-based Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute published a groundbreaking study yesterday that was widely covered by the media. Some interesting takes here, here and here. The first of those three links has some interesting feedback from Histogen’s CEO Dr. Gail Naughton.
In summary, these scientists used pluripotent stem cells from humans to create dermal papilla type cells that were then injected into hairless mice. Lo and behold, the mice started to grow human hair! I do not see any strong reason preventing the same from working from human->human (as long as its the same human). However, Dr. Terskikh stated that he is still looking for partners “to implement this final step”, and clinical trials will then tack on a few more years to this procedure finally coming to market.
One thing that I like about the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is that it is a non-profit organization. I wonder what conditions a for-profit partner would set for providing research funding? We always seem to have issues when private sector companies purchase rights to new technology in the hair loss world, since each new clinical trial phase progression is then dependent on one particular company’s internal decision making and funding availability. If they do not feel that a product will make them at least $xyz, they often even cancel further research despite successful outcomes from initial trials.
In any case, going back to this study, the artificial dermal papillae cells were grown from pluripotent stem cells. Such cells can be derived from human embryos (controversial) or a patient’s own skin cells (not controversial). According to Dr. Terskikh, per one of the articles I linked above:
Patients can donate their own iPS cells, which can be grown into the replacement dermal papillae in “unlimited” quantities.”
Note: iPS (or IPSC) stands for induced pluripotent stem cells, which are generated from adult cells (as opposed to embryonic pluripotent stem cells, which are derived from early stage embryos).
Besides the above advantage, another key benefit of this stem cell derived process is that it overcomes the ongoing problems researchers have had in trying to multiply existing human dermal papilla cells outside the body and then re-injecting them into the scalp. The dermal papilla cells largely seem to lose their hair-inducing properties when kept outside the body. In fact in this very study the authors tried three experiments:
- Transplanting human dermal papillae cells taken from adult scalps to the mice. Result = insignificant number of hairs generated.
- Transplanting just human skin cells to the mice. Result = insignificant number of hairs generated.
- Transplanting dermal papilla cells grown/derived from human embryonic stem cells to the mice. Result = significant new hair generation!
Besides Dr. Terskikh, the principal author of the paper is Dr. Ksenia Gnedeva. While the former has done work in many different areas (largely related to stem cells), the latter has focused a lot more on hair related research. It seems like both of these researchers have published some of their research in Russian. This year, I hope to try and write more about hair loss research that is being conducted in countries such as Russia and China, but is not being published in the English language. Perhaps I might have to hire some local students from those countries to help me?
Update: Ironically enough, someone fluent in Russian was thinking along the same lines as me and actually managed to interview one of the article’s authors based in Russia. See more on Bald Truth Talk forum member “Bald Russian”‘s phone interview with Ekaterina Vorotelya. Wish US-based researchers were as forthcoming!