DeepMind’s AlphaFold Protein Structure Database

Several days ago, DeepMind (sister company of Google) released its much awaited AlphaFold 2 protein structure database. To be accurate, the project was in partnership with the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL).

The original AlphaFold project commenced in December 2018. The Nature article provides a full summary of this latest breakthrough. DeepMind’s CEO and founder is Dr. Demis Hassabis.

The British company became renowned due to its AlphaGo and AlphaZero programs. These programs taught themselves Go, Chess and Shogi through playing themselves over several days. They were then able to defeat the world’s best human and supercomputer players of those games.

I am very surprised that this groundbreaking development was not mentioned by any readers. It will likely have positive implications for future hair loss treatments. Interestingly, reader “Quentin” recently made a very useful comment about amino acids, which are closely related to proteins.

AlphaFold 2 Highlights

Among the highlights of this open access online freely available AlphaFold database:

“This will be one of the most important datasets since the mapping of the Human Genome.” — Dr. Ewan Birney (EMBL-EBI Director).

  • DeepMind’s AlphaFold 2 AI tool has given 3-D structure to 350,000 proteins.
  • This includes a map of the roughly 20,000 proteins expressed by the human genome. Also known as the proteome.
  • AlphaFold is already helping scientists accelerate drug discovery.
  • Over the coming months. DeepMind plans to vastly expand the coverage to almost every sequenced protein known to science (over 100 million structures in the UniProt database).
  • This computational work represents a stunning advance in the 50-year old protein-folding problem in biology.
  • It will change everything (?).

“With this resource freely and openly available, the scientific community will be able to draw on collective knowledge to accelerate discovery, ushering in a new era for AI-enabled biology.” — Dr. Paul Nurse (Director of the Francis Crick Institute).

Hair Loss Proteins

It seems like this technology is ripe for helping speed up the development of hair loss treatments. And helping understand the reasons for androgenetic alopecia.

For a long time, many people have suggested that a hair loss cure does not have to entail just complete annihilation of (DHT). For example, see my post on the Krox20 (EGR2) protein.

Just for the heck of it, I did a search for “hair” in the database. It came up with 175 results:

AlphaFold 2 Search
AlphaFold 2 Protein Search Results.

Other Open Source Resources

We are increasingly seeing free online databases and open access resources that benefit hair loss researchers. In addition to the general DeepMind/AlphaFold GitHub, we also have hair specific ones such as the BiernaskieLab GitHHub.

You also have resources such as Driskell Lab’s skinregeneration.org where you can search for large datasets related to scarring and regenerative tissues. See my related post post on skin regeneration, wound healing and hair growth.

Fibroblast Growth Factors and Hair Growth

I have previously covered different fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) and their impact on hair growth. This post is a comprehensive summary of the key FGFs (cell signaling proteins) involved in hair follicle cycling.

Fibrobasts Growth Factors and Hair Growth

There exist 23 members of the FGF gene family, each identified by a number at the end. At least 5 of these fibroblast growth factors have significant impact upon hair growth. Usually via a modulation of the Wnt/β-Catenin pathway and Sonic hedgehog (Shh) expression. The fibroblast growth factor receptor family has 4 members,

FGF1, FGF2 and FGF10

FGF1, FGF2 and FGF10 have some positive impact on hair growth, although the research is limited. A Chinese study from 2015 found that FGF-1, FGF-2, and FGF-10 fibroblast growth factors promote hair growth. They do so by inducing and extending the anagen growth phase of hair follicle cycling.

A South Korean study from 2016 found that arachidonic acid increased the expression of FGF-10 (and FGF-7). This in turn promoted hair growth.

A Japanese study from 2016 concluded that FGF2 (also known as “basic fibroblast growth factor” or bFGF) seems to have a positive impact on hair growth. Interestingly, when I interviewed Dr. Malcolm Xing, he mentioned that FGF-2 is the preferred growth factor used at this clinic for his work purposes.

FGF5

On this blog, I have covered FGF5 more than any other fibroblast growth factor. Interestingly, this particular growth factor needs to be inhibited in order to promote hair growth.

Evolis Shampoo.
Evolis Shampoo to inhibit FGF5.

An Australian company named Cellmid has been very successful at selling its Evolis line of products. See the science behind their FGF5 inhibiting concept here and in the video below. On Amazon, their FGF5 inhibiting shampoo currently has an average rating of 4.1 out of 4.5. Cellmid seems to be doing well in spite of recent challenges.

The company’s products contain natural botanicals that have been shown to inhibit FGF-5. For example, one of the ingredients is Sanguisorba Officinalis Root Extract, known to reduce FGF5 and prolong the anagen hair growth cycle. A related Japanese patent.

FGF7

FGF7 (also called keratinocyte growth factor, or KGF) is required for hair growth. The well known hair loss researcher Dr. Elaine Fuchs co-authored an important study on FGF-7, hair development and wound healing in 1995.

A 2000 study found keratinocyte growth factor to be an important endogenous mediator of hair follicle growth. Histogen’s now discontinued Hair Stimulating Complex product included KGF as one of the key hair growth factors.

FGF9

An important 2013 mice study from U Penn found that FGF9 induces hair growth after wounding. Dr. George Cotsarelis was a co-author. More here. Reducing FGF9 expression decreased hair follicle formation. In contrast, over-expressing FGF5 led to a two to three-fold increase in the number of new hair follicles.

The researchers think that using FGF9 to treat wounds in people can also help regrow hair. Human skin tends to scar and not regenerate any hair after suffering injury, In contrast, mice skin is much better at also regrowing hair after injury.

Follica licensed the intellectual property rights soon after the study was published. The actual 2009 patent can be seen here. It seems like there exists a window of opportunity after wounding during which:

“The FGF9 pathway could be modulated to potentiate hair neogenesis”.

Cellcurin Topical Fibroblast Growth Factor 9

Interestingly, a 2019 study from South Korea tested a trademarked cocktail containing topical FGF9 (Cellcurin). They used this growth factor cocktail (GFC) in combination with microneedling on patients with androgenetic alopecia. The results (see below image) indicate Cellcurin to have a positive impact on hair growth and follicle thickness. A related article also mentions the addition of NMN.

Fibroblast Growth Factors.
Fibroblast Growth Factor 9 for hair growth. Source: Global Dermatology.

I hope someone can make a topical cocktail of most of the above fibroblast growth factors. At the very least, maybe this will reduce hair loss drastically.