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Apr 22, 2012
The end of baldness
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Two new discoveries may lead to effective treatments for baldness.Hair loss must be the most traumatic event in any man’s life. At least, if you believe television, baldness never produces confidence or success. Baldness equals failure. It is the great scourge of our society. It is our bubonic plague or Spanish flu. Almost 80 percent of men will be inflicted with some degree of thinning hair. In fact, 50 percent of men are struck down with thinning hair by the age of 50. The numbers only increase with age. According to The Washington Post, Americans spend around 3.5 billion dollars a year trying to combat this affliction. This makes hair restoration a big industry; unfortunately, much like earlier times when Moxi and Coca-Cola were sold as cure-alls, much of the 3.5 billion dollars spent on hair restoration is spent on ineffectual treatments. Luckily for all balding men, there are still some brave researchers hoping to end this affliction.

George Cotsarelis and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have recently published a study in Science Translational Medicine on the biological mechanisms that cause male pattern baldness. The researchers determined that bald men had a higher concentration of the lipid Prostaglandin D2 in balding areas on the scalp. The prostaglandin lipids are a group of compounds that are known to promote and regulate hair growth, but this is the first time they have been shown to handle hair inhibition. Apparently, Prostaglandin D2 binds with the receptor GPR44 on cells, and once bound, the lipid disrupts and inhibits hair growth.

This is a huge leap forward for balding men everywhere. Currently, there are only two FDA approved treatments for balding, Finasteride and Minoxidil. Yet both treatments only re-grow hair in about 30 to 60 percent of men. However, both drugs are able to stop the progression of hair loss in 80 to 90 percent of men. This means that it is important for men to treat male pattern baldness early, and male pattern baldness is caught early through extensive testing. So please get tested regularly.

The new biological mechanism for hair loss discovered by  Cotsarelis is important because the pharmaceutical industry already has several internal compounds that can prevent lipids from biding with the GPR44 receptor. So Cotsarelis and colleagues believe it will not be long before the pharmaceutical industry is able to produce a new hair loss treatment. In theory, this treatment should be longer lasting and more effective than current methods because it disrupts the biological mechanisms that prevent hair growth.

This treatment could be a welcome replacement for the current creams and transplant surgeries. Of course, not everyone wants to smear a topical cream on their head every single day. Also, hair transplant is a costly procedure that typically takes several sessions and can result in scarring and infection. Luckily, researchers have also harnessed the power of stem cells and organ regeneration to potentially cure male pattern baldness.

Researchers grew hair on this bald mouse using stem cells. Copyright: Tokyo University of ScienceTakashi Tsuji and colleagues published a paper in Nature Communications that demonstrated that epithelial stem cells can be turned into bioengineered hair follicles used to re-grow hair. More importantly, the engineered hair follicles appear to develop natural cycles and interact with other cells as if they were natural. This suggests that in the near future regenerative hair replacement might be a possibility for any man (or possibly woman) who does not want to undergo surgery or the disgrace of the continued use of topical creams.

While the paper’s main goal was to develop a regenerative hair replacement therapy, the research might prove useful for other regenerative organ therapies in the future. This, of course, is un-important for men with male pattern baldness. Who even wants a new spleen when his head is so shiny?

A cure for male pattern baldness has been just "a few years away" for decades. However, unlike past claims, both new treatments appear effective and safe, which should allow the pharmaceutical industry to begin testing earlier. More importantly, there is a lot of economic pressure for drug companies to be the first to produce an effective hair restoration treatment. The first company that is able to end the scourge of male pattern baldness will be able to dominate a huge percentage of that 3.5 billion dollar pie.

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