Hair and Breasts: Existing Markets to Power Commercial Tissue Engineering

A large existing market primed to accept a new medical technology is a powerful thing: it can help to drive commercial application of that new technology far more rapidly than would otherwise happen. I've noted in the past that the hair restoration industry is a good example of this process in action. It's a large enough industry to support its own research community, and the concept of applying tissue engineering to hair regrowth is not a great leap for a customer already thinking about hair loss.

Some years ago it was discovered that when [dermal papilla] cells are relocated, an entirely new hair will grow. That observation is only useful, though, if you can multiply dermal papilla cells - and do so in a way that allows them to keep their ability to induce hair growth. For, in normal culture, dermal papilla cells quickly lose this sought-after ability. ... The long and short of it is that being able to multiply these cells while preserving their efficacy opens the way for unlimited supplies of head hair.

An article in Wired on the work of Cytori Therapeutics makes the case for the industry of breast reconstruction and augmentation to be in a similar position to help advance tissue engineering technologies:

There: a chest as flat as a floor mat from a double mastectomy. There: one so misshapen after a partial mastectomy, it's possible to determine what it actually is only because of its healthy companion. "We realized that for these women there was a huge unmet need for a disruptive change in technology," Calhoun says of the work that has consumed his team of researchers and surgeons for the past eight years. "It's the first practical cell therapy." He pauses. "And it’s breasts." Which means cancer victims with breasts mutilated by surgery - as well as women who are simply unhappy with their natural assets - can now grow a new and improved pair, with raw materials harvested from their own body fat.


But breast augmentation is just one development (so to speak) in the company’s more ambitious plan: to introduce stem cell medicine to the mass market ... It makes sense to apply Cytori's technology to enhance breasts instead of, say, repair urinary sphincters as a strategic way to move the patented technology out of rats and into people as soon as possible. Hearts, kidneys, and even sphincters have to work in order for us to survive. But we can live just fine without breast tissue, and, outside of feeding offspring, breasts don’t have to do much. The fact is, the scientific and regulatory hurdles to getting Cytori's cells into clinical use will be easier to clear for breasts than for other tissue: Breasts simply aren’t as necessary as other organs, so the bar for proving to regulators that the technology works will be lower.

You'll notice there one of the more subtle damaging effects of risk-averse regulation of medical research and development, or, more accurately, bad-press-for-otherwise-unaccountable-bureaucrats-averse regulation. It drives efforts towards less meaningful therapies, discouraging investment in the most important solutions and goals by making it harder to bring the fruits of research to market.


Am I right to think this could have implications for other cosmetic procedures, in the near term? I'm thinking specifically about the restoration of volume to the face via the regeneration of subcutaneous fat. In other words, could we quite soon see the first instances of regenerative medicine being applied to age related deterioration, and that in order to meet a cosmetic need? If so, bring it on. A monumental goal scored against aging and built in advertising on the faces of every starlet who adopts the procedure.

Posted by: Ben at October 21st, 2010 4:46 PM

Note that the cosmetics industry has hundreds of millions to throw around, but even with all those resources has managed only minor advances in skin, hair care etc. That's a bit disheartening.

The good news is that some changes you might think are only cosmetic actually have deeper causes that contribute to aging generally. So advances in cosmetics might lead to deeper advances in the anti-aging field.

An interesting example is the case of greying hair. On average, a person's hair starts to turn grey at 30, and there is 50% greying by age 50. But not so long ago scientists made a breakthrough and believe they have now identified the major cause of grey hair - turns out its the build up of hydrogen peroxide (a natural bleach) blocking production of melanin.

But hydrogen peroxide build up is causing widespread damage throughout the body, not just grey hair. And its caused by free radicals, and can be combated with the enzyme catalase. In fact in a recent experiment on mice, hydrogen peroxide build-up was identified as a major nasty, and using catalase to counter was able to extend the lifespans of the mice.

This illustrates the point that even cosmetic manifestations of aging can have deeper causes.

Posted by: zarzuelazen at October 22nd, 2010 5:14 AM
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