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Latest Discoveries in Hair and Scalp Biology Shared at the Recent TRI Conference

New perspectives on the root-causes of dandruff, fresh opportunities for the regulation of hair growth through controlling follicle metabolism and the recent discovery of new sensory receptors in the follicle. These were just some of the important discoveries shared on the first day of the 9th International Conference on Applied Hair Science.

In the second week of June 2021, TRI held the 9th International Conference on Applied Hair Science. The conference lasted 5 mornings (evening or nights depending on where the attendees were located!) and welcomed several household names of hair science sector to present seminars based on their research and expertise. Day one of the conference was dedicated to Hair Biology.

The Plenary talk on day one was given by Tom Dawson (A*STAR, Singapore), and was entitled “Role of the Scalp Microbiome in Health and Disease: Malassezia, Friend or Foe?” In his presentation Tom suggested that, whilst it is well known that high levels of the fungal growth on the skin are associated with dandruff, and whilst it is also widely known that anti-fungal treatments are usually effective, the incidence of the condition has recently been shown to be associated with individual susceptibility to develop skin inflammation. If we can understand why this is case, Tom argued, we can perhaps better prevent dandruff occurring in the first place. Another key message in the presentation was that we are starting to understand that scalp treatments might not need to be all about the mass-killing of scalp microflora. Instead, Tom suggested, future treatments might be all about regulating the delicate balance between bacteria and fungi on the skin and recognizing that many of these organisms have skin benefits, as well as negative effects. Experiments are starting to show, for example, that eczema affects the growth of different species of skin fungi. Studies are also showing that some fungi are able to control the effects of harmful bacteria. So, Tom argued, it is all about getting the balance right.

Duane Harland (Ag Research, New Zealand) gave a presentation entitled “How Do Follicles Make Different Types of Hair? A Systems-Biology Approach!”. Duane’s excellent talk shared his team’s ambitious plans to build new ways of modelling the mechanical behavior of sub-components of the hair follicle. These models, he explained, could be used to link compositional changes during follicle growth, for example during keratinization of the hair shaft or formation of the outer root sheath, to hair biomechanical properties. Ultimately, Duane wants to use these models to understand how changing biological processes in the follicle can make hair grow straight or curly.

This was followed by Aishwarya Sridharan (A*STAR, Singapore), who gave a talk titled “Understanding Hair Bioenergetics to Modulate Hair Growth.” Aishwarya’s talk explored how follicle metabolism is related to the hair growth. It is known, for instance, that the follicle needs sufficient energy, nutrients, and biosynthesis precursors for healthy hair growth. With that in mind, Aishwarya showed that imbalances in metabolic processes can be related to an increased production of Reactive Oxygen Species - ROS. This could lead to hair follicle death and consequent hair loss. The understanding of this mechanism could be an interesting target to modulate hair growth.

Ralf Paus’ (Univ. of Miami, Florida) presentation, entitled “Frontiers in Human Hair Follicle Chemosensation: Hair(y) Matters in the Odor, Taste, and Pheromone Circus” explored the presence of sensory receptors in hair follicles. In this talk Ralf Paus talked about how human follicles are chemosensory mini organs, due to the presence of Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) ion channels, which are responsible for specific sensations. Another interesting finding was that one of these receptors, TRPM5, which is a pheromone-sensitive receptor, is also related to hair growth. Ralf showed that sensory receptors in the follicle can respond to various cosmetic ingredients, and he proposed that they should be explored further as routes to controlling hair growth.

Brian Fisher’s (P&G, Cincinnatti) talk was entitled “Hairfall – A Review of Hair Retention Methods and Insights into Scalp Care”. Among causes of shedding hair, Brian explored the seasonality of this process using some interesting new protocols designed to evaluate the shedding. Interestingly Brian showed an increase in hair fall in September, which was also confirmed by other studies. Further studies might be needed to understand more about seasonality, but the interesting protocols used in this study could be used to further investigate this area.

In the final talk of the first day of the Conference, Philip Ludwig (BASF, New jersey) finished with a talk entitled “Comprehensive Microbiota Analysis Comparison of Oily and Healthy Scalps”. Philip talked about the scalp microbiota, the alterations that excessive sebum production can have in the presence of microorganisms and how scalp products can modulate these alterations. A very thought-provoking presentation that demonstrated the power and importance of the scalp microbiome.

All these great talks showed us different approaches to study the hair biology and emphasized just how diverse hair research can be.

Hair Biology is definitely a very interesting and complex topic of research, and we look forward to more of these discussions with all great hair scientists!

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