Baldness treatment touted by tufted mouse

Spot the Mouse, for that’s her name, lived a hairless life – until nine months ago she suddenly got a tuft of human hair on one side.

Spot is a test subject for Silicon Valley startup dNovo, a YCombinator company that embarked on a 2018 mission to find a cure for balding. According to dNovo, the underlying cause of baldness is when your body stops making new hair cells, which – like all cells – get their marching orders from stem cells. It claims that its proprietary “reprogramming technology” can convert existing cells taken from your blood or other personal sample into new hair stem cells.

In theory, a procedure similar to Spot’s would transplant these cells onto the area you may have covered with a hat or comb. The graft then causes dormant hair cells to get going again, and voila, your luscious locks are back.

Three weeks after dNovo researchers transplanted hair stem cells grown on Spot and her “hairless” mouse counterparts, the pioneering rodents began sprouting patches of human hair. (The company first shared photos of Spot with the MIT Technology Review‘s look at high-tech baldness treatments; we are the first to tell you their name).

The result is… well, perhaps not the most visually appealing location the researchers could have chosen. If they don’t go for the traditional top-of-head position, why not the chest? This allowed Spot to make the most of the rest of her short two-year life by rocking a gold chain.

Luckily, dNovo founder Ernesto Lujan assures us that Spot “seems to be enjoying her hair with no significant side effects.”

Time for a visit to the hairdresser!
Photo credit: dNovo

Lujan’s technology is patent-pending, and the description of the process on the company’s website states, “We may be able to create your own personalized hair stem cells that are compatible with your immune system.” the mouse lies, but it is not an ironclad clue to the future.

“This is just the first step towards our potential cure for hair loss,” says Lujan when asked how long the journey from mouse tuft to human mane is. “Finding a treatment for balding on your own is quite a daunting task.”

Considering the relative importance of this treatment, you’d be forgiven for noticing how pharmaceutical and biotech companies are betting squarely on solving very male problems like erectile dysfunction, while many health problems affect women remain understaffed and even taboo. But Lujan stands by his mission to apply stem cell technology to a seemingly superficial problem – one that can actually cause a lot of internal strife, and not just for men.

“Much of stem cell research has focused on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine,” says Lujan. “All of these pioneers lay the foundation for what we are doing now. Hair loss is a common problem, affecting nearly one in two men and one in seven women over the age of 35. We believe our work will improve the lives of many people, and that’s what we’re focused on.”

Kudos to Spot for her part in bringing baldness a hair’s breadth closer to healing.

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