A cure for hair loss in the future can be gene therapy. Many patients wonder if it is currently available.
In gene therapy, the scientists change the genes of cells. Gene therapy is currently not available for treating hair loss. The researchers are still researching the subject. It can be the next breakthrough in the hair loss treatments.
Some hair follicles are prone to balding. Others are resistant to it because they are resistant to dihydrotestosterone. In gene therapy, the idea is to change the dihydrotestosterone sensitive cells to dihydrotestosterone resistant cells. Though, it is not easy as it sounds. Some difficulties are:
- It is hard to find out which genes are responsible for the hair loss, and to alter each of them. (Identifying the genes)
- It is also had to give instructions to the affected genes for producing proteins that will not cause hair loss.
- How to make the target cells to accept the new genes is difficult to achieve.
Identifying the Genes Responsible for Hair Loss
Identifying the genes that cause hair loss or other genetic conditions is difficult. Scientists still need to understand what certain genes are responsible of, which have an impact of the life cycle of hair, which cause hair loss, and which produce proteins that lead to hair loss causing the testosterone to turn into dihydrotestosterone.
In the future, gene therapy will identify which genes are responsible. There are already some improvements. Though it is a tough task because the hair follicles that are prone to shrinking and sensitive to dihydrotestosterone share the same DNA with the hair follicles that are more resistant to dihydrotestosterone. They are identical in DNAs. Though the characteristics of the DNA are different. This makes it hard to figure out which one is which. Hopefully, after the recent developments, scientists can figure out more, and there will be more improvements.
Let us assume that the scientists identified the responsible cells. They will then need to modify them. There has been a few finding regarding the modification of genes. Below is a brief history:
1998: Dr. Angela Christiano (PhD) of Columbia University and her team identified a single gene that is responsible for a genetic hair loss. It was the first human gene ever linked to balding. In a village in Pakistan, people have an inherited disorder that causes them to lose all the hair on their bodies. Learning about this, Dr. Christiano, who herself is also a sufferer from hair loss, alopecia areata, decided to conduct research. They found out that the chromosome 8p21 is responsible for this rare type of hereditary hair loss. They call it generalized atrichia. It leaves the whole body without hair shortly after an individual’s birth. Christiano and her team published their findings in the science magazine of that year in volume 279.
Christiano thought there were transcription factors that affected the hair’s growth cycle. A few months after their initial study with the Pakistani family, Christiano and her team identified a gene that caused congenital atrichia in a nomadic, Irish Traveler family. The babies are born with hair, and once it falls out, it does not grow back in this reproductively isolated community. The mutation was different from the mutation in the Pakistani family. This led Christiano to think that the problem is linked to the growth cycle: when the hair falls out, new hair does not grow. She made the conclusion that we need to regulate the growth cycle of the hair.
The same year Dr. Elaine Fuchs (PhD) and her team published their finding about an altered mouse gene. They published the results in Cell. They induced hair follicle formation in mice. According to the BBC news of the same year Dr. Fuchs said: “Beta-catenin can cause adult epithelial cells to revert to an embryonic-like state where they have the ability to choose to become a hair follicle.” This means new hair follicles can be made from adult skin cells. This process caused benign tumors to form in mice. Fuchs suggested that the researchers find a way to switch of beta-catenin after the new hair follicles are formed.
The following year, in 1999, Ronald Crystal MD and his team of Cornell University, reported that they have forced the resting hair in mice into growth phase by exposing the cells to the activities of protein produced by the Sonic Hedgehog Gene.
These publications and others all show that finding a genetic cure for hair loss is a complex task and it has to be done at the molecular level. Proteins and genes in these studies affect both the growth of the hair follicles and other cells in our bodies.
Though these are very promising studies, along with newer ones. They help understand the reasons for hair loss. Because genetics is very complicated, we need more time to do more research, more investments, and case studies. We need to have a better grasp of hair science. In most of the current studies, the researchers point out to the potential advancements as well as the possible and current side effects. Hopefully, in the near future, there will be more treatments without side effects.
The challenge is not limited to identifying the responsible cells, and modifying them but also transporting these modified (improved) genes to the target cells. The researchers need to target the correct cells, and have these cells to make the new proteins with the new genes. How will they ensure that the target cells are making the desired proteins with the desired characteristics? This is essential. When you change the mature cells, because the mature cells wear out, the therapy is not effective. The mature cells will leave their place to new cells with the original DNA code after a while.
To have more effective and permanent or long lasting effects, one needs to target the stem cells.
In gene therapy, the scientists often use crippled viruses for delivering the desired genes into the correct target cells. When a cell is infected by a virus, it makes proteins that causes diseases. Researchers make use of this process, and use the virus infection for inserting the DNA with desired characteristics into the target cells. The DNA virus or virus DNA is called “crippled” in this context because the scientists stop it from reproducing. They then add the desired genes to the crippled DNA. The virus DNA can then be injected to the stem cells or in laboratory environment they can be added to the stem cells and then inserted to the recipient area.
While all of these are encouraging and promising, there are numerous problems to address and solve in gene therapy. These include the identification of the responsible genes for hair diseases and hair loss, modifying the correct genes, and delivering them to the body. Science should also find a way to stop the side effects, rejections of the body, and any bad mutations that the therapy might cause.
Gene therapy can be one of the ultimate solutions for baldness in the future. We will keep you posted about the recent developments in the field. Until then the current cosmetic, medical, and surgical treatments provide good solutions for baldness and other hair conditions.