Singapore Institute of Medical Biology

For a long time I have wanted to write a post on hair loss research at the Singapore based Agency for Science, Technology and Research (also known by the creative acronym A*STAR). I have even listed it in my page on the most important hair loss cure research centers around the world.

Singapore A*STAR Research

More specifically, within this A*STAR research institute lies the Skin and Hair Research department, led by Dr. Tom Dawson. Also of interest is the Hair Pigmentation department (edit: no longer active it seems), led by Dr. Carlos Clavel.

Dr. Dawson is fairly renowned in the hair research world. In fact, last year he was one of the main speakers and moderators at the 25th World Congress of the ISHRS in Prague. His seemingly interesting lecture was titled “Imaginative New Ideas to Stimulate Hair Growth”. Most likely, it entailed some of the below discussed findings.

Update: September 2020 — New findings conclude that fine-tuning stem cell metabolism prevents hair loss. The researchers were based in Cologne and Helsinki.

The Energetics of Growing Hair Follicles

In July 2017, Dr. Dawson and his team published a highly interesting study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, energetically titled: “Compartmentation of Mitochondrial and Oxidative Metabolism in Growing Hair Follicles: A Ring of Fire”. This work also entailed collaboration with researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina Pharmacy School Department of Drug Discovery.

However, an article about this now 6-month old paper only showed up in my alerts this week and was provocatively titled “The age-old search for a cure for hair loss may be close to an end”. At first I was skeptical about this research because of this exaggerated title. Moreover, the US based source for this article was not any educational or research institute.

However, later on I found out that the original source of this story is the reputable Singapore based A*STAR institute itself. They published the same article several days ago. Interestingly enough, they titled the article differently (“Getting to the root of hair loss”), but used the same provocative “The age-old search for a cure for hair loss may be close to an end” sentence as a second level heading.

Energy, Metabolism and the Hair Follicle

The main points to take away from this latest study (and my non-scientist opinions) are that:

  1. A slowing metabolism potentially plays a key role in hair follicle aging and subsequent hair loss. The researchers call this phenomenon “chronogenetic alopecia”.
  2. However, in my opinion, androgenetic alopecia (aka male pattern hair loss) is to some extent also influenced by aging. Most men only experience significant androgenetic alopecia after the age of 30 to 40 despite having an influx of male hormones (in particular, testosterone and dihydrotesterstone) as early as age 13.
  3. According to Mr. Dawson, hair growth is a highly energy-intensive process. He mentions a very interesting fact in that an average human grows almost two meters of hair over his/her body per hour. He also discussed specific energy needs for this process.
  4. Stopping the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and maintaining mitochondrial metabolism might be the secret to maintaining high quality hair as we age.
  5. Key quote from Mr. Dawson:

“If we use materials such as leave-on creams or lotions that alter metabolism, you can change the way hair grows and make follicles survive longer and produce better hair.”

I recently discussed how it seems like humans are losing their scalp hair more rapidly and earlier than in past generations. Perhaps part of this can be explained by our modern sedentary lifestyles and bad diets worsening our metabolism (and increasing our waistlines, insulin resistance rates and diabetes rates)?

11 thoughts on “Singapore Institute of Medical Biology”

  1. Again this suggests a starch based diet free of calorie dense foods (meat/dairy/oil) is the way to go. This is the easiest diet for the body to process without it undergoing stress and substantial energy usage (which according to this study is required for hair growth).

    1. I don’t get these kind of conclusions. If the hair in the permanent done can grow for your entire life and withstand all this ROS formation, why can’t the hair on top of the scalp, THAT should be the focus of research. It is because these follicles have an androgen receptor. Its activation leads to the inactivation of stem cells in the dermal sheath cup. But how does this occur? Probably by inhibition of Wnt pathway, mast cell degranulation, shift of prostaglandin concentrations and probably more. The more we discover the more chance we have to develop a drug that maintains/regrows our hair without having to castrate ourselves. Sure everyone’s hair gets a bit thinner over the entire head as we age, that is just plain “ageing”. Thanks researchers for pointing this out but it is no use for curing androgenetic alopecia.

        1. Your diet advise is excellent both for general health and athleticism, in particular gymnastics that I do. Read the China Study. But it makes no difference to your hair. I have been training for over 20 years, eat well, lean and all that, but I still go bald, wear glasses, etc. Not everything is our fault. Just as you can’t choose your height or skin tone or sexual organ size, hair is just another lottery. We lost :-)

          Look at old black and white photos and you will see just as many bald people as there are today. You won’t see many obese people though. The fattest guy in your gym today would have been one of the fattest men in the world in 1910.

  2. Any takeaways for us from this research? Exercise more? Low-carb diets? Eat lots of antioxidants?

    A doctor on Quora has been telling me that normalizing my testosterone levels should slow hair loss too. I’m using Chlomid for that, not hormone replacement.

    FWIW, my hair loss seems to have started when I tried a no-poo experiment a few years ago. I (stupidly) thought the chemicals in the shampoo might be responsible, based on poor quality journalism. Only took a few months to lose most of it. Back on shampoo and it’s slowed again. I’m sure it would have happened anyway but can’t help but think that maybe that’s what kick started the process and I could have delayed it a lot longer.

  3. This research paper is on very similar grounds to was Dr. Ray Peat recommends.
    There exist a blog and website called The Danny Rodd blog that outlines what ASTAR research mentions about ROS and metabolism.

  4. I think this whole article is hogwash. I had perfect hair at 20, and zero body hair. As I grew facial hair and body hair my hair loss has happened very gradually. I think hormones like T and DHT are 95 percent responsible for all hair loss period. The longer hair is influenced by androgens the more hair you slowly lose over time. More androgens = more hair loss although sensitivity is key. How sensitive is your hair? If you think energy causes MPB id invite you to go visit a prison and view some of their diets, and study their percentages of MPB compared to general society. I think they would be very similar.

    “However, in my opinion, androgenetic alopecia (aka male pattern hair loss) is to some extent also influenced by aging. Most men only experience significant androgenetic alopecia after the age of 30 to 40 despite having an influx of male hormones (in particular, testosterone and dihydrotesterstone) as early as age 13.”

  5. The problem is this article doesnt offer any proof or scientific evidence in support of their theory, or even tie in their theory to the current best theory of male hormones causing mpb.
    I also dont like when people use terms like aging or metabolism because those are very general terms that encompass an awful lot of things. How exactly does it do that?

  6. I would also ask in response to this doesnt body hair and facial hair or toenails grow your entire life and consume vast amounts of energy? Why doesnt facial hair stop growing if you crash diet like head hair does? I just dont buy it, and they didnt present sufficient evidence here to convince me of anything

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