Hold on to your toupees. Scientists have spotted a trend in scalp samples from men with pattern baldness that could lead to a new way to treat hair-loss. The discovery hits close to home for Follica, a startup focused on hair-loss treatments, whose scientific co-founder was one of the main researchers behind the new findings.
The new research found that men with pattern baldness have plenty of hair follicle stem cells in their scalps. This might mean that the stem cells, important to hair follicle development, need to be activated in some way to treat baldness. George Cotsarelis, a dermatologist from the University of Pennsylvania and co-founder of Follica, co-authored a paper on the research released today from the Journal of Clinical Investigation. Follica itself did not participate in the research.
Follica CEO William Ju says that the findings in the paper are in line with the rationale for the company’s experimental device and drug treatment for baldness. The mostly virtual biotech firm, which was hatched and incubated at PureTech Ventures in Boston, has been developing a treatment for pattern baldness that stimulates the re-growth of hair follicles by harnessing a natural wound-healing response.
“Our hypothesis has always been that we could harness adult stem cells to grow new hair follicles,” Ju says. “I think what this recent paper shows is that the stem cells are indeed present.”
Cotsarelis agrees. He says that the findings of the research make a treatment to re-grow hair follicles even more plausible than before. Follica is trying to regenerate hair follicles anew, he says, and he and his colleagues show in the study that the hair follicle stem cells are already present in the scalp.
“It made us realize that male pattern baldness is probably not a stem cell problem as far as numbers go, but that it’s more or a problem of activation of the stem cells,” Cotsarelis says.
In fact, the study’s human scalp samples—collected from men with pattern baldness who were undergoing hair transplantations—lacked progenitor cells that help grow new shafts of hair. Those progenitor cells develop from stem cells. So some of the answers about the causes of male baldness might lie in understanding why the stem cells present in guys’ hair-deprived scalps don’t advance to the progenitor stage. The study found no significant difference in the amount of stem cells between scalp samples from haired and balding regions from the same people. Cotsarelis says that further research is needed to understand why this is.
An overseas human clinical study of Follica’s drug-device combo treatment for baldness is under way, Ju says. He declined to share key specifics of the ongoing study, such as where exactly it is taking place, yet he did say that the firm eventually plans to pursue approval of the treatment in the U.S.
“I will say that the trial is being done in a very quality fashion outside the United States,” Ju says. “They are being done under the same standards as one would see in the United States under FDA [oversight].”
Unfortunately, Ju wouldn’t provide a timeline for when a clinical trial of the firm’s treatment might open to those seeking to remedy their baldness in the U.S. But based on the avalanche of comments we typically get on our stories about the startup, it probably won’t have any trouble finding participants when and if it launches a study in this country.
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