Losing Hair? A Startup Wants to Treat Baldness by Reprogramming Your Cells

Turn back the clock.
Derya Ozdemir
Cure for baldness is on the way.LENbIR/iStock

A new Silicon Valley biotech startup named dNovo, established by Stanford University–trained biologist Ernesto Lujan, have discovered a way to use genetic engineering to combat the age-old problem of baldness.

This is especially encouraging given that hairlines are receding faster than ever as a result of the pandemic-induced stress and aftereffects of COVID-19. And while the most common cause of baldness is hormonal in men, aging, cancer, testosterone, and genetics can all be factors.

The dNovo approach, which aims to solve balding related to age-associated stem cell loss, entails transforming any cell into a hair stem cell by modifying the patterns of genes that are active in it. The process begins with just a few drops of blood, which the company utilizes to make personalized hair stem cells that can then be used to grow new hair. And perhaps most importantly, the company claims that the cells can evade any immune system response that would cause them to be rejected.

If we get into the specifics, the patent-pending technology entails five steps: first, collect the cells; second, reprogram them; third, grow the new hair-producing cells; fourth, transfer those hair-producing cells to human scalps, and finally, fifth, wait for one to three months for the new hair to grow. This procedure has been demonstrated to work on mice; however, it will be years before the technology is ready for human trials.

“We are currently in the preclinical stage of development,” founder Ernesto Lujan told Fortune. “We have shown the results in laboratory mice and are very excited with those.”

So, while more work needs to be done, the researchers are optimistic. Lujan also added that they hope to “eventually demonstrate the efficacy in human trials and make our product commercially available." And, with additional research, the technology could someday cure "the underlying cause of hair loss," and given that roughly half of men have male-pattern baldness, some as early as their twenties, this is undoubtedly a significant step in the right direction.

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