Researchers: Fibroblast Growth Factor 9 (Fgf9) Key to Growing New Hair Follicles

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In early June 2013, researchers at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania announced that they’ve been able to regenerate hair follicles in adult mammals and that the procedure could eventually be used to grow new hair in humans. In a new paper published online in Nature Medicine, the researchers describe in detail the role that fibroblast growth factor 9 (Fgf9), a protein produced by the skin’s immune system, in the formation of new hair follicles.

The paper’s chief author is Dr. George Cotsarelis, MD, the chairman for the Dermatology Department at the Perelman School of Medicine and a co-founder of Follica, a company dedicated to developing new hair loss treatments based on stem cell growth factors.

A number of companies are now marketing hair growth serums based on Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media (HFCM), which contain dozens of specialized proteins, growth factors and cytokines believed to play a crucial role in regenerating dormant hair follicles. One of companies, Cygenx, markets a product called RegenRXx Hair Serum 90 that contains more than a dozen growth factors, including Epidermal growth factor (EGF), Insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), Fibroblast growth factor type 5 (FGF5), Transforming growth factor Beta (TGF-B) and Platelet-derived Growth Factor(PDGF)

Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media (HFCM) is a nutrient rich solution composed of growth factors, cytokines, soluble collagen, antioxidants and matrix proteins that are often referred to as “signaling” molecules that are derived from a complex invitro laboratory tissue bioengineering process. All human cells grow, heal and divide by interaction with an array of these growth factors and matrix proteins which maintain cellular and tissue homeostasis.

Dr. Cotsarelis’s research shows that Fgf9 is present in greater quantities in the top layers of skin right before new hair follicles are created. When the researchers artificially reduced the amount of Fgf9, the hair follicles did not develop. The research team believes that a combination of deliberate “wounding” in the scalp — perhaps as minor as a skin prick — combined with the application of the right comnbination of growth factors, such as Fgf9, could lead to the rapid formation of new hair follicles on balding scalps.

“This discovery sheds light on a novel mechanism to regenerate hair follicles and opens an exciting new avenue to develop treatments for hair loss in humans,” said Dr. William Ju of Follica, Inc. “Follica has developed a technology platform that is uniquely suited to support clinical translation of these new findings. The Follica platform can be used to induce skin reepithelialization, which creates a ‘window of opportunity’ during which the Fgf9 pathway could be modulated to potentiate hair neogenesis.”

Translated into English, Dr. Ju appears to be saying that Follica hopes this new research will lead to new hair. Follica has been developing new growth factor treatments but does not yet have a product on the market. Hair loss sufferers have been frustrated by the lack of progress so far. Another company, Histogen, is also developing a new hair loss treatment. The problem with growth factors is scalp penetration. One solution, which the San Diego company Histogen is working on, is to develop a surgical procedure to inject growth factors beneath the skin and more directly into the scalp. The problem with this approach is that it requires FDA approval, will be expensive and is not available right now. In 2012, the company’s CEO presented the preliminary results of the company’s double-blind Phase I/II clinical trial of its Hair Stimulating Complex (HSC) at the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) annual meeting in the Bahamas. The title of the paper was, “Scalp Injection of Active Embryonic-like Cell-secreted Proteins and Growth Factors.” The company reported a very favorable 86% response rate from patients tested and an increase in total hair count was substantially above an earlier trial.

For years, researchers have theorized that hair loss is caused by a genetic hyper-sensitivity to the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a derivative from the male sex hormone testosterone. The theory has been that hair follicles gradually shrink and then die when exposed to large amounts of DHT. As a result, the theory goes, to grow hair faster you simply have to limit the amount of DHT on the scalp. There are a number of highly effective anti-DHT shampoos and conditioners on the market now. For example, DS Laboratories Revita Shampoo and Revita.COR conditioner are popular with women who want to grow hair faster and with men who want to regrow lost hair.

The most exciting development in recent years to grow hair, however, has been the discovery that DHT does not cause hair follicles to die, a previously thought, but only to go asleep. In a sense, therefore, hair follicles hibernate. Scientists have discovered a number of special proteins, known as growth factors, that are like chemical alarm clocks and wake dormant hair follicles back up. These growth factors have been proven to stimulate new hair growth and to grow hair faster. One of the earliest and most popular of these new growth factor serums, made from adult stem cells, is Cygenx’s RegenRXx Growth Factor Serum 90. By flooding hair follicles with these specialized chemical wake-up messages, growth factor serums stimulate the follicles to grow hair — to grow hair faster than normal and to regrow hair where none was growing before.

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