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A New Approach to Treating Hair Loss

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Hair loss, or alopecia, is thought to affect up to around 70% of men and 40% of women during their lifetime. While the causes and types can vary, hair loss of any kind can be distressing, and most people want to stop or reverse the process. A novel approach to treating the condition is currently being developed, which relies on using a person's own cells to repopulate their hair follicles. 

To find out more about this method, and some of the advantages it could offer over current treatments, we spoke to Lee Buckler, President and CEO of RepliCel.

AM: Can you tell us about some of the cellular and molecular mechanisms thought to be responsible for hair loss?

LB: In androgenic alopecia, the androgen hormone kills off one of the cell populations in the hair follicle that’s responsible for hair growth. They’re called the dermal sheath cup cells and sit at the base of the hair follicle. The androgen hormone attaches to a cell receptor on the surface of those cells. That same cell population located at the back of the head simply lacks the receptor for the androgen hormones to use in its attachment. So, those cells are essentially mechanically immune to the condition and that’s why people with pattern baldness usually have hair on the back of their head.

As a result, we start with a tissue biopsy at the back of the head and isolate those cells which are immune to the condition and grow millions of more cells to repopulate the follicles on top of the head. 

AM: What are the limitations of current hair loss therapies?

LB: Simply put, hair transplantation is bloody, messy and highly variable. It requires surgery, is very expensive and a lot of times it doesn’t work. There are products on the market that claim to promote hair growth. Propecia is a repurposed prostate drug to treat hair loss. Women are not allowed to use it and for men there are common side effects that include loss of libido and other sexual side effects. It also doesn’t stop the progression of the condition.

Rogaine is a topical product that you spread on the top of your head and we’ve found that people dislike the required daily application of the solution. Furthermore, the evidence is weak that it works at all.

AM: Can you tell us about the potential that cell therapy could offer, and the advantages it may have over other therapies?

LB: We’ve shown there are no significant or long-term adverse effects or side effects to our cell therapies. We believe our technology not only stabilizes hair loss, but also reverses it and, we believe it will be potentially long-lasting. There’s nothing more natural than using your own cells to regrow your hair.

AM: How does Replicel’s cell therapy work?

LB: Our hair loss treatment works by using autologous cell implantation technology. Dermal sheath cup cells from a patient’s own healthy hair follicles are replicated into millions of cells over a two-to-three-month period. These cells are then reintroduced into areas affected by hair loss and we have found that this triggers the development of new hair growth.

While the initial studies have focused on androgenetic alopecia which is the primary reason for pattern baldness in men and a primary reason for thinning hair in women, we believe our treatment can potentially be used for trauma induced hair loss, traction alopecia, chemotherapy induced hair loss, scarring alopecia, congenital alopecia and congenital hypertrichosis or the condition of abnormal hair patterns.

Lee Buckler was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Editor for Technology Networks. 

Lee Buckler is the President and CEO of RepliCel Life Sciences. He possesses nearly 20 years of cell therapy experience and has pioneered many innovative business and cell science approaches in the field of regenerative medicine.  As CEO of RepliCel, Buckler oversees the development of the world’s first-of-its-kind cell therapies treating conditions affecting 1 in 3 Americans: pattern baldness, aging and sun-damaged skin, and chronic tendon degeneration.