Weill Cornell Researchers Announce New Gene Therapy Strategy To Promote Hair Growth

Biologic Switch Accelerates Hair Growth in Mice

Oct 1, 1999


In a paper published in this month's Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University reported that mice which were administered a gene-based therapeutic agent to induce hair growth showed marked acceleration of the onset of new hair growth two weeks after treatment.

The study "is a striking example of the application of 'regenerative gene therapy' to engineer old organs back to youth," said Ronald G. Crystal, MD, senior author of the paper and Director of the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell. It follows important work by Dr. Crystal and colleagues on using gene therapy to produce new blood vessels in the heart in the treatment of cardiovascular disease.

Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., MD, Dean of Weill Cornell, said, "Cornell University is proud to continue its leadership in the fields of gene therapy and genetic medicine. This exciting work in Dr. Crystal's laboratory illustrates the power of an approach to clinical problems that is rooted in the basic sciences."

The new strategy for hair growth uses a modified cold virus (adenovirus) to carry a gene called "Sonic hedgehog" into the skin. Sonic hedgehog is known to play an important role in embryonic development of many organs, including the brain, skeleton, and hair follicles. In this example of "regenerative gene therapy," Dr. Crystal and his colleagues theorized that by transiently expressing this embryonic gene in the adult skin, the result would be acceleration of growth of the normal hair follicle. The results, dramatically demonstrated in mice, show accelerated growth of hair in the area of treated skin.

Dr. Crystal said, "The newly produced hair shafts in treated mice had normal hair structures, both under microscopic examination and to the naked eye. The observations in this study may be relevant to a new approach to therapy for hair loss, in which a gene-transfer vector provides localized, transient acceleration of the maturation of hair follicles, resulting in hair growth. For example, such a strategy may be beneficial in accelerating hair growth following chemotherapy."