The state of hair regrowth therapy today
Hair plays a critical role in biological functions such as temperature regulation, sensory reception, and physical protection. Not only that, it also plays a vital social role by visually communicating information about age and sexual maturity. Hair loss (alopecia)—whether due to congenital malformation of hair follicles or acquired baldness—can severely diminish one’s quality of life in both physical and emotional respects. The development of medical treatments for hair loss has been hindered by their inherent difficulty, and the fact that it is not a serious, life-threatening illness. Today, alopecia patients are often treated with drugs that stimulate hair growth or slow down its loss, or hair transplants from elsewhere on the body.
Groundbreaking progress in hair regeneration
Male pattern baldness affects certain areas of the scalp due to the differences in the types of dermal papilla cells present in the hair follicles there, and is mainly attributable to genetic factors. The condition arises from the overexpression of a certain enzyme that converts male sex hormones in the papillae. We have developed several distinct hair regeneration technologies over the years. In the first generation technology, dermal papilla cells in which this enzyme is not expressed are collected from active follicles, mainly at the back of the head, and then cultured. Dysfunctional papilla cells in the bald areas are replaced with the new ones, allowing healthy follicles to grow in their place. Our second-generation technology involves using an original technique called the organ germ method to develop follicle progenitor tissue, or germ, from epithelial stem cells and dermal papilla cells collected from healthy follicles, which are then transplanted into the bald areas. In the third generation technology, hair follicles and skin are engineered from induced pluripotent stem cells: this approach benefits patients with congenital alopecia, who lack healthy follicles, or severe baldness, who have almost none. These three generations of hair regeneration technology have paved the way for a new healthcare paradigm in which all types of hair loss are treatable.
Our business model for hair regeneration
Our approach to hair regeneration—autologous transplantation—is to implant follicle germ units originating from stem cells harvested from a patient’s own healthy follicles. For male pattern baldness, we harvest a small number of hair follicles from the patient at a medical facility, and then send them to a contract manufacturer, who isolates, cultures, and amplifies them to generate follicle germ units via the organ germ method. These follicle germs are packaged and shipped back to the medical facility to be transplanted into the patient’s scalp.
We are continuing our R&D in an anticipation of clinical application as the world’s first case of organ regeneration in humans.