The annual iGEM awards will not trip of your tongue like the Oscars, or the Nobel. But in their field they are equally influential and highlight the very best their industry have to offer. A team from the Israel Institute of Technology, known to its friends as Technion, turned up in Massachusetts for their annual competition where they pitched their creative new solution for hair loss in competition against 259 other undergraduate and high school teams.
iGEM operate in the truly 21st Century field of synthetic biology, it is a foundation whose aim is to bring education and competition to this exciting new field – which they do by hosting a database to support collaboration among a worldwide community of scientists as well as hosting their annual competition.
The Technion Team
The ten strong Technion Team were led by 25 year old Alexey Tomsov, he had been looking for a project to take on for the prestigious iGEM competition and found the answer very close to home. As Alexey said, “My Dad is bald and I noticed my own hair is starting to thin”. “What can I do about this?” he asked himself. He set himself the task of creating a topical application that would address the hair loss problem and leave the rest of the body unaffected.
The solution they came up is modern science at its jaw-dropping best, by genetically engineering a bacterium normally found on the scalp, Bacillus Subtilis, they were able to get it to secrete 3a-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, an enzyme capable of breaking down DHT (the derivative of testosterone believed to be the cause of the vast majority of androgenetic alopecia). But their work was not done yet – the actual treatment would require an enzyme to catalyze that reaction, this was achieved by re-engineering e-coli to enable that enzymatic reaction and break down DHT on the scalp.
Modern Meets Medieval
If this amazing application of scientific method is impressive the delivery method has an antiquated appeal… the two genetically engineered bacteria are combined on the scalp using a comb.
For now, the exact achievement remains a secret. As Tomsov says, ““We still have more experiments to do before we can receive approval for human trials. We can’t say at this stage how effective our product is or any questions regarding the stages of baldness it will cure.”
The great news is that the team won a Jamboree gold medal and first-place prize for Best New Application. They have also been rewarded by their University back in Israel with a package that will assist them taking their technology to patent… maybe the best prize of all is that none of the team now need to job-hunt anytime soon.
Another space to watch for those of us who remain ever hopeful that science will one day come to our rescue and return us simply and quickly to a full head of hair.
Of course any solution that makes it to market is likely to be years into the future… in the meantime, if you are ready to do something about your own hair loss click here to find your nearest HIS Hair Clinic and book an appointment to discuss your situation with one of our experts.