Gene editing is at the cutting edge of scientific advances in medicine. News of results released this week suggests hair loss will be on the list of curable conditions. We look closer.
CRISPR Gene Editing
Scientists discovered an enzyme, Cas9 (or CRISPR-associated), that had an amazing property. They found that it could be used as a pair of molecular scissors to cut strands of DNA. American scientist, Jennifer Doudna, and her French colleague, Emmanuelle Charpentier were the first to discover the technology. Since then the story has been one of refinement. That’s all well and good you are no doubt thinking, but will gene editing be the cure for hair loss?
The ambition from the outset was that it could be a powerful tool in the fight against hereditary diseases.
Since 2005, when the technology was first discovered, the work has been picked up by labs around the world. Two American companies, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and CRISPR Therapeutics, have been working on their treatment and looking to turn theory into clinical evidence. They have published the results of the very first clinical trials involving CRISPR technology.
The team took two challenging conditions, sickle cell disease, and beta-thalassemia. They are both inherited conditions that result in blood disorders and are accompanied by grim side-effects.
The headline-grabbing verdict in their published report was a winning one. They declared that the two treated patients have both been potentially cured of their diseases. It has been called a ‘remarkable scientific and medical milestone.’
In the trials, the team extracted bone marrow stem cells fro the patients and edited them in the lab. Fixing the genetic mutations that caused the disease and then infusing the cells back into the body. The body can then, in theory, take over and produce healthy new cells.
The patient suffering from beta-thalassemia received one treatment nine months ago. The patient had previously required 16 blood transfusions in a year but has not needed one since.
The sickle cell patient received their treatment over four months ago. Prior to treatment, they experienced an average of seven excruciating health crises a year. Since treatment, they have not experienced one.
HIS Hair Clinic
It is one of the more remarkable stories we have reported on over the years. A treatment that seems likely, if not probable, to be able to cure hair loss. But don’t hold your breath. This is the very first published trial results for the technology and there is still a long way to go.
Estimates on cost for treatment are astonishing. Well over $2M. So the wait will be a long one. Not just for many more trial results to be published either. We need more than one clinic in one country working on a treatment. What we need is for hundreds of clinics to be working on the technology, and for cheaper faster ways to achieve it. Will gene editing cure hair loss? Quite possibly. We will, of course, be watching ever so closely.
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