When an experimental treatment causes a profound change in hair color

A few years ago, a man with cystinosis received an experimental treatment. However, the researchers behind this treatment came up with some pretty unlikely side effects. Indeed, the patient’s hair has undergone a profound genetic modification.

An excess of cystine in the organs

The term “serendipity” refers to a unexpected discovery. For example, in 2017, Japanese researchers obtained a new polymer capable of “repairing” itself by initially exploring a completely different solution to prevent screen breakage on smartphones and other tablets. Serendipity is not just about technology, however, but about many fields, including medicine.

A recent article published in The Atlantic tells the story of Jordan Janz, a 20-year-old Canadian. In 2019, he was affected by a genetic disease which gradually got the better of him: cystinosis. It induces a excess cystine, an amino acid, in the cells of organs such as the kidneys (mainly), but also the eyes, the brain, the liver, the pancreas and the muscles. On average, the life expectancy of patients does not exceed thirty years.

Jordan Janz received an experimental treatment based on modified stem cells that had several side effects. In particular, it was a question of painful sores in the mouth altering his ability to eat, but also the fall of his pale blond hair.

man hair baldness
Credits: iStock / AND-ONE

Very changeable hair color

Over the months, the patient began to get better and his hair grew back. However, their color was no longer the same. Indeed, her new hair was very dark, almost black. Since then, the color of her hair has changed again, now pulling on dark blond. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (USA) behind the treatment reacted to these changes in hair color. According to them, the darkening of the patient’s hair was probably a a sign that the therapy was working well.

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Jordan Janz is not the only patient who has seen his hair darken. Out of five individuals who received the same treatment, four are in the same situation. In the fifth patient, the change affects the regrowth of his hair. The fact is that all of these patients are Caucasian. In addition, people with cystinosis are often paler than other members of their family.

However, previous research has made it possible to understand that the gene responsible for the disease also plays a role in the production of certain types of melanin, the pigment that influences the color of skin and hair. The phenomenon therefore does not concern non-Caucasians, so that there is perhaps no correlation between the severity of the disease and pigmentation.

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