Two scientists, both women and working on different continents, have collaborated on some amazing science. Their work has broken new ground when it comes to treating hereditary disease, of which hair loss is an example. So, we ask, have two women found a hair loss cure? We look closer.
This is an uplifting story of hard work and dedication across the years. One that begins with a simple observation and ends in what has been called ‘a remarkable and significant medical milestone.’ The pair at the centre of this story have earned themselves a place in the history books of medicine, with their work set to revolutionise treatment for hereditary diseases. Have two women found a hair loss cure? Quite possibly.
In 1987, a strange property of bacterial DNA was noticed. A pattern that for many years was a mystery, what possible purpose could it serve? The first clues were seen around 20 years later, in the mid-2000s. Studies revealed that these patterns, called ‘clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’ or CRISPR for short, were part of the defence system of bacteria. Using an enzyme called Cas the bacteria was able to cut out sections of virus DNA and put it into their own genome. This, in turn, enabled the bacteria to be able to detect an attack by the virus and fight back.
The real breakthrough came in 2012. Two women, Jennifer Doudna in the US and Emmanuelle Charpentier in France, led teams that showed how that bacterial defence system, and the Cas enzyme, in particular, could be used to ‘cut and paste’ gene sequences. So, for the first time, scientists had the prospect of being able to ‘repair’ human genomes – the possibilities seemed endless.
Since the work of those two amazing women was announced the technology has been picked up by labs around the world. Recently, the results of the first clinical trials involving the use of CRISPR technology were published, and they were all we could have hoped for.
Vertex Pharmaceuticals and CRISPR Therapeutics, two American companies, have been focussing on a couple of debilitating hereditary illnesses. Sickle cell anaemia and beta-thalassemia are inherited conditions that come with terrible prognoses.
In the study, a patient suffering from each of these diseases was treated. Cells were extracted from their bone marrow before being edited, using CRISPR, in the lab, fixing the genetic mutations before infusing the cells back into the body. The theory was that the body would then take over the job of producing new healthy cells.
We will cut to the chase, the study was an unmitigated success. The teams were able to lay claim to being the first to successfully use CRISPR gene editing to reverse a hereditary condition.
For the sufferer from sickle cell, the treatment was transformative. The year prior to treatment experienced an average of seven ‘excruciating health crises’ a year. But has not experienced one in the four months since their single treatment. The sufferer from beta-thalassemia was also given one treatment. In the year prior to the treatment, they had to endure 16 blood transfusions, in the nine months since treatment they have not needed one.
The two firms are moving on to a Phase 1/2 open-label trial, enrolling up to 45 patients in the US, Canada, and Europe.
Hair Loss For Women
We have to end on a note of caution, at least in regard to hair loss. While hair loss is most definitely a hereditary condition, it is not as simple, in many ways, as treating something like sickle cell. With sickle cell, the team was targetting an individual gene. To ‘fix’ hair loss is far more complex. We have already identified well over 200 genes that play a role in our hair. But these results have moved the goalposts considerably. We are now at the stage of grasping that complexity and in possession of the tools to do it. Once we can detail the picture of all those genes, and their individual roles, we will be in a position to use CRISPR gene editing to fix hair loss.
When that happy day arrives, we will all need to raise a glass to the brilliant work of Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier… even if a team from MIT did sneak in and patent their discovery for use on humans. You can see more detail on these results, and their future plans, on the Vertex website here.
Here at Hair Loss For Women, we have our very own hair loss heroine. We would like to offer you the opportunity to discuss your hair loss situation with a friendly, globally recognized, expert. Ranbir is a qualified trichologist and a full member of The Institute of Trichologists. A committed hair professional, Ranbir has years of experience and a well-earned reputation for thought-leadership and innovation in the industry. Discuss your hair loss situation with an expert, sympathetic and experienced ear. Use the contact form to get in touch.
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