Category Archives: Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

Stemson Therapeutics: Functional Hair Follicles from Stem Cells

During the last 30 days, we have received positive updates from: Aclaris Therapeutics; Dr. Lowry (new company Pelage Pharmaceuticals); Follica; Polichem; and Shiseido.

We also had a positive story from Columbia University (Dr. Angela Christiano) this week that I did not cover. It pertained to a study from 2018 and another study from April 2019 that I already covered several times recently in relation to JAK-STAT signaling. The first of these studies involves a new way of 3D-printing hair. Who knows when it will reach the public, but still worth a read.

I did not think that we could have a more inspiring month than we have just had in the world of hair loss cure research.

Stemson Therapeutics has Arrived

I was wrong.

Perhaps the biggest story of the year is the fact that Stemson Therapeutics is now a reality, and they have officially launched their website. I originally covered this company in October 2018.

I have covered the co-founder of Stemson Therapeutics, Dr. Alexey Terskikh, numerous times in the past. He kindly gave me an interview in 2017, in which he mentioned that the biggest thing holding them back was lack of sufficient funding.

I have asked Dr. Terskikh to give us another interview soon and hopefully he will accept. Earlier this month, he told me that his lab was given a podium presentation at the ISSCR conference on June 27th, and were about to launch their new website around the same time.

However, he did not mention the below surprising development!

Functional Hair Follicles Grown from Stem Cells

Functional hair follicles grown from stem cells.
Functional hair follicles grown from stem cells. Image from Sanford Burnham’s Twitter post.

Earlier today, San Diego based Sanford Burnham Prebys published a what seems to be groundbreaking new article: Functional Hair Follicle Grown from Stem Cells. Note that this research institute is affiliated with Dr. Terskikh. More on their Twitter account.

The breakthrough is because scientists from Sanford Burnham have created natural-looking hair that grows through the skin using human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). According to the article, this “could revolutionize the hair growth industry”.

Unlike in past experiments where new hair growth was underneath the skin, haphazard, and disorderly, the current results produced hair growing above the skin in a uniform pattern. The breakthrough was achieved by using a biodegradable 3D scaffold that guided hair growth through the skin in its preferred direction.

Actual paper is here. Lead researcher is a Dr. Antonella Pinto.

The current protocol is based on mouse epithelial cells combined with human dermal papilla cells. However, the derivation of the epithelial part of a hair follicle from human iPSCs is currently underway in the Terskikh lab. Key quote from the article from today:

“Combined human iPSC-derived epithelial and dermal papilla cells will enable the generation of entirely human hair follicles, ready for allogenic transplantation in humans.”

Make sure to read about the difference between autologous and allogenic. Also read my past post on person-to-person hair transplants.

Stemson Therapeutics has licensed the above technology from Sanford Burnham.

I hope there are no further major developments in the hair loss world till July 1, as I am about done for this month!

Pluripotent Stem Cells Used to Grow Human Hair in Mice

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:

  1. Transplanting human dermal papillae cells taken from adult scalps to the mice.  Result = insignificant number of hairs generated.
  2. Transplanting just human skin cells to the mice. Result = insignificant number of hairs generated.
  3. 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!

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