Scientists from the Max Planck Institute in Germany have discovered the genetic basis of hair formation and are in the process of creating new preparations for treating hair loss.
     They have succeeded in finding the mechanism of action of a crucial component of hair formation. It is a “protein switch” which regulates the actions of numerous genes, which “encode” the protein structure of the hair (Keratin). Keratin is a durable protein material that gives structure and tensile strength to the hair. After previously locating the “protein switches”, the researchers started solving the exact mechanisms by which they work. This research is now resulting in new methods of stimulating hair growth.
     The scientist originally working with Dr. Boehm were initially working on the molecular basis of immune system function. This resulted in the accidental discovery of a protein switch for hair formation. It originated out of studies investigating a genetic anomaly in mice which are afflicted by a hereditary immune weakness that results in hair loss. “We asked ourselves at the time, which gene is actually defective in these naked mice, because this particular gene must be responsible for growing hair as well”, says Boehm.
     Hair growth occurs in anagen (growth) and telogen (resting) cycles. At the end of each cycle, hair sheds and is usually replaced by a new hair in the next cycle. The regulation of this cycle is influenced by many variables. Few treatments have been developed by the pharmaceutical industry over the years, and those that have been are either inefficacious or have problematic side effects.
     Research done by the German scientists show that certain existing treatments may not be necessary when the protein switch is “turned on”. As opposed to an oral drug, only a local topical treatment treatment with a lotion or special shampoo is required, doing away with concerns about side effects.
     This team of researchers are pondering the possibility of creating their own biotech company, and possibly making this type of treatment commercially available in the next 5-8 years. What remains yet to be seen are the costs and actual effectiveness. Many using combination therapies are possibly getting results that would be equivocal to gene therapy anyway. Eventually, hopefully in our lifetimes, they will get to a cure, a one time, genetic intervention that will permanently, “turn on” the gene, no longer necessitating the need for daily application.