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Procter & Gamble Uses Biology to Beat Dandruff
How biotechnology, carpet and scotch tape have helped to alleviate itchy scalps.
By: The Scientist
Through the research of biologist Thomas Dawson, 44, who received his PhD in
Pharmacology from the University of North Carolina, joined P&G in 1998, and is now the
principal scientist in hair care in the beauty technology division, the company has been
making dramatic strides for Head & Shoulders. Before Dawson arrived, “There was no
biotechnology in the company,” says James Thompson, head of the Global Biotechnology Division. “With the tools Tom [Dawson] brought on board, we’re learning things that just seemed impossible five years ago.” In this month’s issue of The Scientist, available online and on newsstands, Dawson explains the evolution of the shampoo and discusses why “it’s just a bunch of cool stuff.” He says that while working at the diverse P&G, “You learn something about fibers from carpet and you can reapply that to hair!”
Dandruff is caused by microflora, microscopic plants that thrive in the oils on your
head. “It’s dark and wet and it’s greasy. So it’s a really great place for microorganisms to live,” Dawson explains. Dawson and his team developed genetic tools to identify the
microflora and studied how fungus’ digestive enzymes cause the scalp to flake. The first approach to solving the mystery involved scotch tape and volunteers. At a local clinic, Dawson applied scotch tape to the scalps of volunteers, removed it, and a colleague examined it under an electron microscope. The idea was to link the scale used to rate dandruff severity with a microscopic description of scalp health. Based on these and other findings P&G introduced zinc carbonate into Head & Shoulders in 2006, boosting its efficacy.
With an even better understanding of scalp ecology, the team investigated Malassezia
globosa, the primary species that causes dandruff, and identified the gene used to break down scalp oils. In 2007, Dawson and collaborators published the complete genome sequence for Malassezia globosa. A lipase inhibitor was then created and put into the formula for test runs which have yielded results that are “statistically significant,”
In the 2006 fiscal year, P&G spent $2.1 billion on research and development, which
puts them in the ballpark with Pfizer, Merck and DuPont. The company also has about 3,500 active patents in beauty care, which ranks them with at the top with Microsoft or IBM. “The way we’re going to win this game over time is on investment in research,” Bruce Brown, the vice president of P&G’s beauty division, says. Head & Shoulders still needs to pass through the Food and Drug Administration’
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The Scientist, magazine of the life sciences, has informed global life science professionals for over 20 years. We provide our print and online magazine readers with coverage of the latest developments in the life sciences including trends in research, new technology, news, business and careers. We reach the leading researchers and executive management in academia and industry who are interested in maintaining a broad view of the life sciences by reading insightful articles that are current, concise and entertaining. For more information about The Scientist, visit http://www.thescientist.com.