UCLA researchers have discovered a new way to activate the stem cells in hair follicles that are responsible for hair growth.

Research led by three UCLA faculty members — Heather Christofk, an associate professor of biological chemistry; William Lowry, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology; and Michael Jung, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry — led to the discovery of compounds that, in research in mice, enabled hair follicle stem cells to promote lactate production and, consequently, hair growth.

The compounds and the technology have been exclusively licensed by UCLA to Pelage Pharmaceuticals, a startup company founded by Christofk, Lowry and Jung. Pelage leadership said the company will continue development of the new technology and to develop new drugs that promote hair growth for people with baldness or alopecia, which is hair loss associated with factors including hormonal imbalance, stress, aging and chemotherapy treatment. 

Pelage has entered into an exclusive option with Allergan, a global pharmaceutical company headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, and a leader in medical esthetics, to acquire 100% of the shares of Pelage stock.

“We are thrilled to see this technology advancing, and we hope to bring to market a solution for people with hair loss,” Lowry said. “Losing hair is more than just a result of aging and genetics. People of all ages and genders, and those with an array of conditions may experience hair loss. Currently, there are a limited number of options for these people. We believe that our technology could help address this problem.”

In 2017, Christofk, Lowry and Jung received an award from the UCLA Innovation Fund to help develop their technology. The fund, which was seeded by California State Bill AB 2664 in 2016, aims to move technologies more quickly from idea to the market, bridging the gap between academia and industry and, ultimately, allowing new biomedical inventions to benefit the public faster. The award is presented by the UCLA Technology Development Group, UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, the UCLA School of Dentistry and the UCLA College’s divisions of life sciences and physical sciences.

The compounds and technology developed by Christofk, Lowry and Jung have only been used in preclinical tests and have not been tested in humans or approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective for use in humans.