Category Archives: Claire Higgins

Brief Items of Interest, May 2017

Hair loss news first:

— By far the biggest news this month was the story that scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center in the US found that a specific protein in skin cells called Krox20 (also known as EGR2) turns on hair shaft progenitor cells and is therefore responsible for the initiation of hair growth on the scalp. Moreover, these same progenitors also produce a protein called stem cell factor (SCF), which the researchers showed is essential for giving hair its pigmentation. Full study here. The research team was led by Dr. Lu Le.

There were 100 plus headline stories about this in the global media, and at least 10 people posted links about this story in two blog posts from earlier this month or emailed me in person. I always appreciate hearing about groundbreaking new information, but I wish people would at least skim through the comments for links and make sure the story is not so obvious and widely covered!

Many of the newspaper headlines about this discovery screamed that the cure for grey hair reversal is near (note that this is yet one new approach among many that are being considered to reverse grey hair) and I have covered some of the main discoveries related to both grey hair and the link between skin cells and hair growth on this blog many times in the past.

The main researcher involved in this work (Dr. Lu Le) was actually researching a very specific type of nerve related cancer before stumbling on these interesting findings. At the moment, Dr. Le’s bio page does not even list hair loss as an area of clinical interest for him! However, for those who were paying attention, Dr. Le made one of the main presentations at the recent SID annual conference. His “state-of-the art plenary lecture” was titled:

“Progenitors that Create a Niche for Hair Pigmentation and Graying”.

These findings have yet to even be utilized in any kind of pre-clinical trials, so I was not too excited about this news story and did not write a separate post on it. However, it should be noted that Dr. Le has said the following (and will therefore likely add hair loss to his areas of interest soon):

With this knowledge, we hope in the future to create a topical compound or to safely deliver the necessary gene to hair follicles to correct these cosmetic problems.

— I got far more excited about a new study that came out a few weeks ago titled “The effects of hair regrowth with intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy. Two case reports” (h/t commentator “omg”). Several before and after photos in there that I have pasted below. The key quote that struck me was:

Image for unlabelled figureImage for unlabelled figure

“A literature review did show two cases where treatment with IVIG led to hair regrowth in alopecia universalis though there have been no case reports of patients with AGA having substantial hair regrowth with IVIG or other immune modulating or anti-inflammatory drugs until now“.

Of course the first thing that came to my mind was JAK inhibitors, since those have worked superbly on patients with alopecia areata (AA), an autoimmune disorder. Aclaris Therapeutics (US) plans to test topical JAK inhibitors on patients with androgenetic alopecia (no autoimmune component) in the future as long time readers of this blog know. Fingers still crossed on that one and hoping for the best, although I am disappointed that we have to rely on just one company (due to Angela Christiano/Columbia University’s sale of the key patents to Aclaris).

— Interesting new paper from Russia titled “Hair Follicle Reconstruction and Stem Cells“. Note that one of the authors is a Dr. Vasily Terskikh, who is not the same (as I originally mistook) as the far more famous hair loss researcher Dr. Alexey Terskikh. Most likely they are related since the latter is also from Russia and involved in hair research.

New paper from Dr. Claire Higgins and team titled “Methods for the isolation and 3D culture of dermal papilla cells from human hair follicles”.

— New study suggests benefits of low level laser therapy (LLLT) on scalp hair growth might have a scientific basis.

And now on to medical items of interest:

An artificial womb successfully grew baby sheep. Humans would be next according to some. This surreal idea was also discussed in this video from last year.

The much anticipated skin gun is back in the news. Apparently, “RenovaCare is applying to the US FDA for permission to use it in routine clinical practice. It will then look to obtain a similar licence in Europe”.

Getting close to mass production of bones, organs and implants.

3D printed ovaries produce healthy offspring in mice.

Type 1 diabetes cured in mice.

HIV eliminated in mice using CRISPR.

I am getting a feeling that everything seems to work in mice, including GW1516.

— A common anti-depressant called trazodone could also halt dementia.

The most promising way to mental superpowers.

— Interesting new CRISPR video:

HairClone (aka hairclone.me)

During the past few months, there have been a few new companies entering the hair regeneration sector, but none have impressed me and I have limited my coverage of all those companies to small sections within my once a month “brief items of interest” posts. Today, I learnt about yet another new entrant into the field named HairClone that I felt finally warranted its own post (albeit barely). I still have some serious doubts about this company (would be shocked if they come out with anything substantial in the next 5 years) and do not consider them anywhere near as important to us as the established entities such as the RIKEN/Kyocera/Tsuji partnership (Japan) or the Shiseido/Replicel partnership (Japan). I will briefly analyze this new company via positives and negatives:

Positives

  • The renowned and widely respected researcher Dr. Claire Higgins joined HairClone’s advisory board on August 30th (but alse read my comment on her in the “Negatives” section below).

  • HairClone will be hiring more scientific advisers besides Dr. Claire Higgins in the near future.  Would be great if they tried to get Dr. Roland Lauster into the team.
  • A recent Tweet suggests monthly update meetings with PhD students:

  • HairClone has devised a very unique and creative way to get funding (not necessarily a positive in many people’s minds) and that includes: crowdfunding; giving people who fund the company’s research preference when the actual treatment comes out; allowing investment in equity; offering leading hair transplant clinics around the world membership opportunities; and most interesting of all, hair follicle banking and storage.  On a somewhat related note, if you are having a baby, consider cord blood storage if you have the financial wherewithal.

Negatives

  • By far the biggest negative is that this is still way too early in the game and who knows when trials will commence, and whether the company will succeed with its dermal papilla focused cloning technology in the first place.  Or even if they manage to get sufficient funding.
  • Related to the above, when Solomon interviewed Dr. Claire Higgins earlier this year, she generally sounded pessimistic about new treatments and said the following about cloning (Update: Solomon corrected me in the comments and said she was only talking about cell injections here….but I think in general she sounded pessimistic about the hair cloning time frame in the whole interview):

“I think the future (but it’s not in 4 years or 5 years away, it’s like in 20 years) is to promote direct conversion of fibroblasts into papillae. But something like this will take decades. We don’t know how to do that yet.”

I am hoping that Dr Higgins will change her prediction to 10 years if her lab (only two years old at the time of the interview) and research work gets significantly more resources as a result of HairClone. Thankfully she said that she was not exactly sure about Dr. Tsuji’s work and neither did she list Shiseido’s trials in Japan in her list of ongoing trial examples, so maybe she is just entirely focused on her own work and not following others too much.  20 years would be too big a gamble to invest in a company such as HairClone, and I hope Dr. Bessam Farjo has other ideas and is hoping for much faster completion of clinical trials.  And of course he is probably not just relying on Dr. Higgins’ dermal papilla related work.

  • The company website has some typos, flow issues and seems somewhat haphazardly put together at the moment.  e.g., this page that should probably be removed and this page’s URL includes “hello-world” like in an intro to computer science programming assignment etc…