Major Research Result

NEW Prof. Yoon Tae-Jong Develops Genome-Editing Technology to Treat Androgenic Alopecia

Professor Yoon Tae-jong and his team in the College of Pharmacy have found a genome-editing technology that can be used to treat androgenic alopecia. This latest discovery is raising expectations for finally finding an alopecia treatment with minimal side effects and maximized efficacy.


Professor Yoon (pictured) has announced his finding that an ultrasound-reactive nano-level genome-editing technology and delivery system can offer a more effective androgenic alopecia therapy. The discovery was published in the online issue of Biomaterials, a noted academic journal, on December 28, 2019, under the title, “Ultrasound-activated particles as CRISPR/Cas9 delivery system for androgenic alopecia therapy.”


Androgenic alopecia occurs when testosterone is converted by a reductase known as SRD5A2, found in hair follicle cells on the scalp, into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which then serves to inhibit the growth of those cells. As such, it differs from alopecia caused by environmental factors, such as stress and smoking. The reductase that is responsible for DHT is mostly concentrated on the front and crown of the head. It is the genetic overexpression of this reductase that causes the loss of hair from those parts of the scalp. Alopecia due to environmental factors, on the other hand, can affect any part or the entirety of the scalp. As hereditary/hormonal alopecia can cause significant distress to patients and compromise their quality of life, many researchers worldwide have been exploring pharmaceutical treatments.


The existing treatments for androgenic alopecia, such as dutasteride and finasteride, are oral reductase inhibitors that affect reductases in not only the scalp but also other organs, leading to a host of side effects, including hypotension, gynecomastia (breast enlargement in men), liver toxicity, and erectile dysfunction. These side effects make it impossible for patients to stay on these pills for extensive periods of time.


Professor Yoon and his team have found that the genome-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 (sgRNA), using nanobubbles of air that react only to stimuli from external ultrasonic sources, is highly effective in delivering alopecia treatments to parts of the scalp that conventional nanostructures cannot reach easily.



Specifically, the team has developed a genome-editing technology for applying an ointment-type, rather than pill-type, alopecia treatment. After inducing androgenic alopecia in test animals, the researchers spread an ointment-type treatment, containing liposome nanobubbles with a protein-type genome-editing molecule, on the animals’ skin and subjected it to ultrasound waves. They discovered that the method was highly effective.


Furthermore, the researchers found that the genome-editing technology they employed targeted and destroyed only SRD5A2 to inhibit its growth in hair follicle cells only. This discovery has the potential to lead to the development of an enduring treatment for alopecia that can be spread on patients’ scalp. The treatment method did not generate any of the side effects associated with conventional alopecia treatments. In fact, it led to hair growth in only eight weeks.


“The most important achievement of our study,” Professor Yoon emphasized, “is our finding that simple ultrasound stimulation can deliver a protein-type genome editor into otherwise impenetrable hair follicle cells with great efficiency.” He went on, “Although genome-editing technology has been expected to provide a fundamental cure for alopecia, researchers have, until now, been struggling to adapt it to nano-level use.”


Professor Yoon also commented, “By combining this nanotechnology with genome editing, we may be able to minimize the side effects and maximize the efficacy of alopecia therapy. The infinite potential of genome editing can greatly enhance the delivery of conventional pharmaceutical treatments for treat intractable and rare diseases.”


For the last two decades, Professor Yoon has been researching a wide variety of nano-techniques for delivering various biocompounds into cells and tissues. In recent years, he has been focusing on adapting nano-techniques to genome editing with the aim of enhancing the in-vivo stability and cellular permeability of therapeutic substances and enable localized genome-editing treatments.