Lifeng Kang, Ph.D., is a Lecturer at the Department of Pharmacy, National University of Singapore. His research areas include drug delivery and tissue engineering.
Jing Pan is a graduate student of the Department of Pharmacy at National University of Singapore (NUS) and an AAPS graduate student member. She is doing her Ph.D. study in Dr. Lifeng Kang’s laboratory.
During the tenth week of pregnancy, the number of hair follicles is decided in the uterus, at the same time that fingers and toes take shape. There are about 5 million human hair follicles over the entire body. The number is fixed and the human body can’t produce additional follicles after being born. Hair loss has adverse impact on one’s self-confidence and interpersonal relationships and is the target of a multimillion dollar pharmaceutical industry.
Currently, androgenetic alopecia (AGA) is the most common cause of hair loss in humans. The available treatment for AGA involves the use of drugs such as minoxidil and finasteride. However, some side effects appear during the treatment and hair loss resumes upon withdrawal of the drugs. Also, surgical procedure to transplant grafts containing hair follicles resistant to balding can be performed. However, there are no other alternatives for harvesting hair follicles unless they are from human donors.
To this end, several startup companies have been created, such as Aderans, Follica, and RepliCel. Follica believes that hair follicle stem cells beneath a bald scalp are quiescent, and their approach toward treating AGA is to physically disrupt the skin from the bald scalp and to apply drugs to stimulate these quiescent stem cells for hair follicle neogenesis. On the other hand, Aderans and Replicel propose cell-based follicle regeneration technology in which healthy hair follicles are removed from patients and specific cells are extracted from the follicles followed by cell replication in vitro. Then, replicated cells are injected back into the bald regions. Aderans and Replicel are now in phase 2 trials. These companies are competing to test their hair products in humans and ultimately get into the market.
Tissue engineering may be another potential approach to generate human hair follicles in large quantity to meet the clinical needs. In our study, we construct hair follicle-like microstructures with controlled size and shape using microscale technologies—epithelial and mesenchymal cells are located in a similar way to cell distribution in vivo. This coculture system may improve cell communication, direct cell development, and work as a potential platform for hair follicle engineering in vitro.
Learn more about the research that Kang and his team are presenting at the 2013 AAPS Annual Meeting and Exposition by viewing their abstract, no. T3100, in the MyAgenda Planner.