Hair loss is a big problem around the world which affects millions of people. Most of the recommended treatments and hair growth products don’t work, but luckily, a group of scientists have finally managed to find a way to grow hair naturally. The research is groundbreaking and could be a base for future drugs that will promote hair growth and resolve baldness or alopecia.
The research, led by Heather Christofk and William Lowry, relies on the function of follicle stem cells which can accelerate hair growth. These cells are usually inactive, but they can be triggered during a new hair cycle. Sometimes, they lay dormant for a long time which leads to hair loss and baldness. In the study, the scientists discovered that these cells have a different metabolism from other hair cells. The cellular metabolism breaks down cells in order to react to the environment and produce energy. The process relies on the use of enzymes which alter nutrients to create so-called metabolites. When the hair stem cells process glucose, they create a metabolite known as pyruvate that can either be used as energy or converted into lactate, another metabolite.
“Our goal in the research was to see whether genetically reducing the entrance of pyruvate in mitochondria will result in an improved lactate production, which will activate the stem cells and stimulate hair growth,” Christofk said. The team of scientists inhibited the lactate production in mice which prevented the activation of the stem cells. After increasing the lactate production, they were able to boost the hair cycle and the mice grew new hair quicker than before.
Before this groundbreaking research, no one was aware that altering the production of lactate can have this kind of results. This can be the basis for future drugs that may be able to completely eliminate baldness and other hair problems.
The team discovered two drugs which, when used on the skin of the mice, activated the stem cells and increased lactate production genetically. One of the drugs (RCGD423) works by activating the JAK-Stat pathway, which boosts the lactate production and wakes the cells up. The second drug (UK5099) prevents the entry of pyruvate into mitochondria, resulting in higher lactate production and resulting in quicker hair growth.
“The study allowed us to learn something new about stem cells. The whole idea is very promising and may help millions of people suffering from hair loss in the future. We have only just grasped the idea of hair metabolism and follicle stem cells, and we’re looking forward to see how the research influences the treatment of hair loss in the future,” says Aimee Flores, a pre-doctoral candidate who worked on the research.
Both drugs are covered by a patent (filed by the UCLA Technology Development Group), with Christofk and Lowry attached as inventors. The experimental drugs were used only in preclinical tests, and have yet to be tested on humans.