Peter Gabriel1 told Mojo music industry magazine that he’s considering an experimental hair growth treatment based out of Boston, but said little about the nature of the new treatment he’s considering.
Gabriel is the latest line of celebrities that have come forward about their struggles with hair loss. What makes Gabriel’s story unique is that it doesn’t sound like he’s going the traditional hair transplant route, a hair restoration procedure that is as common as it is successful. Gabriel’s interview has sparked speculation in hair loss forums across the web about what this new treatment out of Boston could be.
Stem Cell Based Hair Loss Treatments
One company that springs immediately to mind is Follicabio2, a mostly virtual Boston based biotech firm which had it’s genesis in PureTech Ventures3. Follicbio mission is to discover and develop new therapies for hair follicle disorders, such as female and male pattern baldness. The approach that has garnered the most press for Follicabio has been its research into hair follicle neogenesis, i.e., the stimulation of hair growth in dormant and/or damaged follicles.
George Cotsarelis, a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist and co-founder of Follicabio, published a paper early this year that proposed a new stem cell based explanation for androgenetic4 , the most common form of baldness in men and women. The research showed that the scalp where baldness occurs has a diminished number of hair follicle stem and progenitor cells. Previous research has shown that progenitor cells are critical for the production of new hair growth.
Follicbio is in the process of developing new therapies designed to stimulate the production of stem and progenitor cells in individuals suffering from hair loss, but the company has been quiet about it’s research and they have only recently filed their patents and have just started clinical trials on unspecified treatment regimes overseas. This has frustrated many hair loss sufferers who are looking for alternatives to traditional hair loss treatment options.
Ryan McBride5 of xconomy.com suggests Follicabio’s reticence is part of its commitment to avoiding hype by sticking to the rigorous scientific approach of only revealing its research findings at medical meetings and in academic journals. This is to help Follicabio remain credible in the eyes of its investors and the FDA.
. . . But are Stem Cell Based Hair Loss Treatments Ready for Prime Time?
While there is a lot of buzz about stem cell research and cloning, particularly when it comes to hair restoration, nothing is currently tangible. The race is on to find both a cure for hair loss as well as an alternative treatment for hair restoration, as surgical hair transplant is currently the best method.
A major limitation is that much of the research involves animals such as mice. While using stem cells and other advanced biotechnology to grow hair in areas of previously bald skin is both impressive and encouraging, it’s important for hair loss sufferers to keep in mind that this research, for the most part, does not involved human beings.
These new techniques are in their infancy, and while holding great promise, their practical application is crude at best. It reminds one of the beginnings of the hair transplant technique where big thick clumps of hair plugs where considered state of the art, but the results hardly looked “state of the art.” Over the past 25 years however, hair transplant techniques have improved to the point where even professional hair care stylists have a difficult time determining if someone has had a hair transplant.
The same evolution will undoubtedly be true for stem cell and hair cloning techniques. One must remember that the human scalp, in addition to growing hair, contains a complex organelle with tiny muscles, oil glands and other complicated structures, which make the head of human hair a wonderfully complex system that’s both beautiful and highly functional. Just re-creating the keratin structures of hair, while extremely impressive, is just one step in overcoming the challenges of developing advanced new hair restoration techniques that will be both effective and look completely natural. Rest assured, however, it will happen.
© 2012, John Frank, M.D.
1. Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel Tempted By Baldness Cure
3. PureTech Ventures
4.Garza, L., Yang, C., Zhao, T., Blatt, H., Lee, M., He, H., Stanton, D., Carrasco, L., Spiegel, J., Tobias, J., & Cotsarelis, G. (2011). Bald scalp in men with androgenetic alopecia retains hair follicle stem cells but lacks CD200-rich and CD34-positive hair follicle progenitor cells Journal of Clinical Investigation, 121 (2), 613-622 DOI: 10.1172/JCI44478