Written by: Jason Stevenson,
Date: Not Sure
Despite its simple outward appearance, the skin is actually a multilayered dynamic shield that not only blocks infections, but also can frustrate the delivery of hormones, nutrients, and genes to hair follicles. Follicular delivery methods will strengthen the effects of existing drugs such as Propecia and Rogaine, as well as create better delivery of future drugs, stem-cell treatments, and adjunct treatments, like delivering nutrients to recently injected stem cells to help them grow new hair. Multiple research labs are currently testing new combinations of lasers, molecules, and lipids that can pass through the skin’s defenses to transport treatments—including existing drugs such as finasteride—to where they are needed most. “These new follicular delivery systems are very exciting and just two to five years away from clinical use,” says Wilma Bergfeld, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Follicular delivery techniques are already being used by some practitioners and in some clinical trials in Berlin, Germany.
Exploiting the regenerative ability of stem cells, hair manipulation will create an endless supply of bald-resistant natural hair. The process begins by harvesting healthy hair follicles resistant to androgenic baldness from the back and sides of the head. Next, key stem cells are extracted from these follicles and replicated or amplified in a lab. Finally, these mass-produced follicles are injected back into bare areas of the scalp. Some lab tests have shown that new follicles can even encourage nearby dormant follicles to regenerate and grow hair. If a man’s hair starts to thin again after this procedure, he could return to his doctor for a top-up injection of his own cells to grow more hair. Researchers at two U.S.-based labs are pursuing stem-cell research, while some men are participating in early hair multiplication trials in the United Kingdom, though commercialization is at least five to 10 years away, according to Dr. Bergfeld and Robert Bernstein, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University. “As soon as research makes this procedure available, it will be widely disseminated,” predicts Douglas Altchek, MD, a professor of dermatology at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The only clinical trials in hair multiplication are in phase one in the U.K.
Eventually, the permanent cure to baldness will come from gene translation. Just like corn can be modified to resist drought or parasites, human genes will be manipulated in the future to express “hair that is resistant to falling out or shrinking,” says Dr. Altchek. This is complicated gene manipulation that involves going into the genes (using viruses as carriers to rearrange nucleotides in the DNA strands) and turning some genes on and some genes off to create the right expression to prevent hair loss. Eventually, doctors will be able to do these gene manipulations in utero. The tricky part is figuring out which genes express what result. “We don’t want monkey children being born,” explains Dr. Altchek. Dr. Bergfeld says that gene therapy is the furthest away. She and other doctors expect to see clinical studies in 10 years.