Tag Archives: Dr. George Cotsarelis

The Shocking Truth About Follica’s Hair Follicle Neogenesis

Follica (not to be confused with the hair products store Folica) is a research and development company specializing in epithelial stem cell regenerative biology. These techniques came about because of the years of scientific breakthrough documented by Cheng-Ming Chuong in 2007.

Founded in 2006, Follica is a subsidiary of Pure Tech Ventures in Boston, Ma. Pure Tech Ventures is an investment firm identifying scientific breakthroughs and supporting the research in order to develop new biotech methodologies for medical applications.

Dr. Chuong’s research originally focused on ways to help heal severe wounds from battle to burns. In his lab, he had experimented with several techniques designed to heal deep wounds that went below the epidermis and were splayed open. After years of almost successes, he used a technique discovered by other researchers that showed regeneration of hair follicles. He had no particular reason to believe that such methodology would be successful in his study but expected that he would be able to eliminate one more route.

As is true in nearly all cases, scientists do not operate in a vacuum and attempt new concepts without some stimulus from another research preceding it. In this case, Dr. George Cotsarelis used Dr. Chuong’s information and redirected his own interests. Dr. Cotsarelis discovered that traumatic disruption of the skin under certain circumstances is able to regenerate spontaneously.
In the 50s and 60s, there were sporadic reports of this self-regeneration connected with wound healing during the Korean War and after. With the lack of knowledge on the part of the scientific community about molecular biological structures, about the genetic composition of all life, and the existence of stem cells, the incident reports were shelved.

In the interim, science has caught up with the nature of biological structuring. With nanotechnology on the rise, many new identifiers are being shared across the scientific world. Dr. George Cotsarelis was able to demonstrate manipulative techniques that worked consistently to regenerate hair growth in damaged skin.

By manipulating the key signaling pathways that communicate follicle formation, Dr. Cotsarelis and Dr. Chuong were able to prove what until then had been no more than a theory. There are several pathways and several methods of manipulation that have been discovered. Some companies are using drug compounds in order to wake up sleeping stem cells within the fatty layer of tissue beneath the skin. Follica is taking a different approach. Instead of regeneration, Follica is researching multiple schemes of neogenesis – regenerating hair and skin cells where none exists.

Rather than waking dormant cells that are present, Follica is studying methods of developing new cells that had previously been destroyed. One of the newest patents that Follica has applied for includes Lithium treatments there have been research studies over the last 25 – 30 years that reveal a specific form of lithium when used in treatments for skin regeneration have shown a modicum of success. Whether this is what Follica is doing with their patent is not able to be confirmed.

Rather than referring to Follica as hair regeneration, it should be called by the term Dr. Chuong applied to it 2009 – hair engineering. This method focuses on morphogenesis – the study of how cells are assembled into functional forms. It is through this basic understanding of cell formation and assignment of what those cells are designed to do leads to a more complete understanding of how skin cells and hair follicles are able to regenerate on their own.

One of the most important discoveries by Dr. Chuong was that by tuning the balanced activity of a molecular pathway, it becomes possible to alter the shape, size and number of the ectodermal organs … skin cells.

Another exciting development in the research resulting from studies in hair loss regeneration involves the understanding of the cells in the fat layer of the skin. This research was reported by Yale University in the fall of 2011. What these researchers discovered was that without fat cells hair will not grow. Prior to this study, little credit was given to fat cells beyond the need to regulate body heat systems. The study has yet to go as far as to confirm that this could be the key to a cure for baldness but hopes in medical endocrinology are high that it will lead to a cure. This Yale Study did emphasize that this is not related to genetic causes for hair loss to their knowledge. It may lead to an understanding in how wounds heal or tumors grow.

Helping people through researching the many ways in which cells interrelate is the current focus of Follica’s mission. In the future, Follica is planning on production of several trademarked products, which are currently undergoing human testing in Asia. A surprising result of this cellular research being done worldwide includes the discovery that loss of hair in the ear, possibly related to some forms of baldness, is connected to hearing loss. Growing hair stem cells in cochlea material could lead to hair regeneration and reversal of baldness.

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Will New Prostaglandin Creams Be New Hair Loss Products

One of the leading pioneers in researching a stem cell treatment for hair loss, Dr. George Cotsarelis at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, just let slip that a new approach to growing new hair could be in the works: A topical cream designed to counteract the effects of a hormone-like substance, known as Prostaglandin D2, that may play a key role in baldness.

In the March 21 issue of Science Translational Medicine, Dr. Cotsarelis reported that his team discovered that Prostaglandin D2 is present in much higher levels in the bald areas of men’s scalp but not present in the hairier areas, such as on the side of the head. Dr. Cotsarelis’s team previously discovered that stem cells in hair follicles are not “dead,” as previously thought, but only dormant… and that something is preventing them from turning into the “progenitor cells” that actually produce hair.

In the past, medical researchers theorized that baldness is due to a genetic hypersensitivity to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This potent sex hormone is a derivative of testosterone, made by the body with the help of an enzyme, 5-alpha-reductase. In addition to playing a major role in prostate enlargement, DHT also, in some men and women, triggers a miniaturization of the hair follicles in certain areas, causing a gradual thinning of the hair until the follicle ceases to produce any hair at all. One method of treating this is topical creams that remove excess DHT from the scalp. Another is through the prescription drug finasteride (Propecia), originally used to treat enlarged prostates. This drug is known as a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor because it “inhibits” the action of the enzyme that produces DHT, thus reducing the amount of DHT in someone’s system… and that, in turn, can slow down and even reverse hair loss. Finasteride is effective about 50% of the time, but it comes with some risks: Recent studies warn that it may cause impotence, decreased sex drive and depression.

Now, Dr. Cotsaerlis’s team has thrown another complicating factor into the mix: Prostaglandin D2. The question they were confronting was: What causes the stem cells in hair follicles to become dormant? Is it the lack of something (growth stimuli) or the presence of something (an inhibitor)?

The team analyzed scalp tissue from men undergoing hair transplant surgeries. They discovered no fewer than 81 different genes with higher activity in the balding areas of the scalp compared to the hairier areas, and one of these genes produced Prostaglandin D2. The researchers concluded, therefore, that it was the presence of something, Prostaglandin D2, that was holding back hair growth. (To further complicate matters, however — nothing in science is ever simple — they discovered another prostaglandin, F2alpha, that appears to stimulate the growth of eyelashes.) The researchers tested their hypothesis in the lab with human hair follicles and on bald mice and, sure enough, Prostaglandin D2 definitely caused baldness when they applied it to skin.

Digging deeper, the researchers found that Prostaglandin D2 works on stem cells in combination with another protein, GPR44, which triggers a “biochemical chain reaction” when it encounters Prostaglandin D2. It might be possible, therefore, to develop a drug or cream that eliminates this other protein, GPR44, which renders Prostaglandin D harmless to stem cells in hair follicles.

Further proof that the scientists may be on the right track can be seen by the fact that Minoxidil — along with finasteride one of two drugs approved by the FDA for hair growth — activates an enzyme that produces… yes, you guessed it… prostaglandins!

So, where does all this leave us? What happened to DHT? The scientists’ best guess now is that hair growth is caused by a delicate balance of prostagladins. Prostaglandins are chemical messengers made from fatty acids, similar to hormones, present in every cell in the body. There are at least 16 different major types. It may well turn out that the old medical understanding of what causes baldness — a hypersensitivity to DHT — was correct but just too simplistic. In other words, it may be that what causes hair loss is an imbalance of prostaglandins — too much of one, not enough of another — and that all we have to do is restore that balance and voila! instance hair growth!

The creation in 1997 of a prostaglandin analog, latanoprost, and the subsequent discovery that it stimulates new hair growth in eyelashes, lends some credence to this theory.

Nevertheless, science proceeds at a snail’s pace and everyone associated with this research urges caution. As Yogi Berra put it, “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Dr. Cotsarelis told the BBC recently that the next step in his research is to search for compounds that have an effect on the “receptor” in the stem cells — presumably GPR44 — and then to figure out if blocking this receptor would merely prevent hair loss or could actually reverse it. However, he added that there are “several” drugs already in existence that target this “pathway” and that clinical trials are already underway.

Maddening, isn’t it? They seem to be inching closer and closer to understanding the biochemical basis for hair loss yet remain very far from having a practical, real-world treatment.

Yet we are much closer than we were even just a few years ago. You know what they say: growing old beats the alternative… a learning a little beats learning nothing.

Stay tuned!

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