Gail K. Naughton is a leading researcher in the field of tissue engineering and the chief scientific officer of Histogen, a regenerative-medicine company in San Diego.
“For the last eight years, we’ve been testing and perfecting an injectable treatment for growing hair and have been seeing exciting results – new hair growth in as little as 12 weeks, with improvement still evident after one year. The treatment, called HSC, works by targeting stem cells in the hair follicles with a mix of naturally secreted growth factors. One factor, follistatin, allows dormant stem cells to shift into a new hair-growth cycle. Another, keratinocyte growth factor, causes cells to proliferate and grow, converting a baby hair into a mature hair or creating brand-new hair. My big aha moment, believe or not, came when I showed before-and-after photos from our first clinical study to my neighbor’s five-year-old daughter – she pointed to each after picture and said, ‘More hair! More hair!’ I mean, truly striking results. The U.S. trials are planned to commence in 2018; we expect it to gain approval in Mexico first, perhaps in 2020, and then in the U.S. sometime after that.
“Growth factors could soon revolutionize the skin-care world as well by targeting distinct issues like brown spots, deep wrinkles, or acne. As researchers learn more about the roles of individual growth factors, they’ll be able to isolate specific ones to make smarter, more customized skin care – potentially within the next five years. Since growth factors are large molecules, we’re looking at ways to deliver them deeper and more effectively into the skin, without injections, through a variety of new nanotechnologies. The growth factors that you currently find in topical skin care can reach only the top layer of skin. By being able to deliver growth factors to cells in lower layers, which are responsible for making collagen and elastin, we can achieve skin that’s firmer and more resistant to wrinkles and sagging.
“Looking further out, we’re aiming to create the next generation of fillers – a totally unique injectable that we believe will be more natural and long-lasting than what we have now. Most fillers today contain just one element of the skin, such as hyaluronic acid, and last for a few months. Ours would include several materials – growth factors, human collagen, and extracellular matrix – to serve as a complete replacement for all of the skin’s components that we lose over time. And these fillers would stimulate the stem cells in your own skin to form new collagen and elastin, a long-term treatment for wrinkles and scars that could last several years.”