The incidence and harmlessness of baldness is high enough for us to consider the condition variant rather than abnormal or disease. For many aging men, it is a new normal in their lives. For many, it is actually a good look and a sign of maturity. For many others, it is undesirable, unbearable, and requires a solution. As far as baldness is a problem, there are bold new solutions.
In Africa not much research, if any is being done in this respect. Scientists are a rare breed of professionals in Africa. In many developed countries, scientists work round the clock studying nature, seeking understanding, growing in knowledge, and even making discoveries to solve problems or to provide goods or services. In Africa these days, many rely on faith to have their problems solved, and that works when justified. However, science and faith are siblings from the same source and neither should be neglected or undermined if we want to enjoy life as we should.
Scientists are working globally and the current approved remedies for hair loss may soon be challenged by new products with promising advantages. For example, minoxidil may take up to 6 months of continual treatment for effective thickening of the hair while some herbal remedies appear to be able to do the same in four weeks. However the toxicological profiles of such herbal medicines are largely unknown unlike that of the well-studied government approved drugs. Minoxidil may cause side effects of scalp irritation and undesirable hair growth on the face, and rapid heart rate (tachycardia). Finasteride, another approved drug, may not work well for baldness in men over 60 years of age. In some patients, it has the side effects of impaired sex drive and sexual function and may increase the risk of prostate cancer. Because of possible birth defects, child-bearing women should not touch the broken tablets with bare hands. Non-drug treatments for baldness such as robot-assisted microsurgery devices are expensive. Hence scientists are arriving at competitive solutions.
At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), molecular biologists led by Dr Heather Christofk’s and Dr William Lowry’s laboratories have found two drugs that can be applied to the skin to activate hair follicle stem cells in mice. Unlike previous treatments that were based on our knowledge of the male hormone dihydrotestosterone, one of these drugs, RCGD423, involves activating the JAK-STAT molecular signalling pathway within cells and increasing lactate production. It was originally discovered by Dr Denis Evseenko, a molecular pharmacologist and orthopaedic surgeon (University of Southern California), as a regulator of cartilage growth and differentiation (RCGD) for treatment of arthritis. The second drug, UK5099, was originally developed by Pfizer. It blocks a glucose metabolite – pyruvate – from entering cell mitochondria forcing an increase in lactate production in the hair follicle stem cells. The result is accelerated hair growth.
Dr Mingxing Lei, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Southern California (USC) working with Dr Cheng-Ming Chuong, Professor of Pathology and head of the team, in collaboration with British and Chinese scientists published experimental results showing how they regenerated hair from adult mice that had stop growing hair (Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Aug 22;114(34):E7101-E7110). They investigate stem cells and how hair follicles can be grown from skin cells in the laboratory mice. Video analysis and documentation, bioinformatics, and molecular screenings, are being used to drive cells to self-organize into organoids (in this case, artificial follicles) that can produce hair.
USC is partnering with the Riken Institute in Japan to develop hair cells and hair follicles for transplant. Replicel’s hair technology RCH-01 is a bold new step to use cells to treat. Healthy hair cells and follicles are cultured and the numerous new cells are injected back into the scalp where hair needs to be grown. Replicel is in partnership with a Japanese company which is also developing another therapeutic cell line, iPS cells, that has the potential to cause unlimited hair growth. Dr Takashi Tsuji at Riken develops hair follicle germ that can be transplanted into the scalp. The British company HairClone actually helps clients to store or bank their frozen hair follicles in their cryopreservation facility and to use them over the years as needed. Like freezing eggs and freezing sperm, freezing follicles can help many men and women to worry less about the aging process. To be continued.