Virginia Commonwealth University

New Advances In Baldness Treatment! Maybe! In The Distant Future!

Posted: February 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bald Blog | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

Solidarity. (Photo by Doug Callahan)

Science might be a step closer to curing an ailment that has confounded doctors and depressed men for millennia. A condition that will serve as the topic for this whole blog. Baldness.

There have been several theories as to why people go bald through the years, such as a general vibe of contempt from the universe or horrible mistakes made in a past life. But while questions of fate and karma might be more fun to ponder, it seems that the baldness mystery could be better placed within a more practical debate in our nation’s dialogue: stem cell research.

For a background on the issue, the National Institutes of Health describe male pattern baldness as such:

Each hair sits in a cavity in the skin called a follicle. Baldness in men occurs when the follicle shrinks over time, resulting in shorter and finer hair. The end result is a very small follicle with no hair inside. Ordinarily, hair should grow back. However, in men who are balding, the follicle fails to grow a new hair. Why this occurs is not well understood, but it is related to your genes and male sex hormones.

In a fully functioning, non-balding scalp, stem cells form progenitor cells, which are then charged with the duty of producing a thick, luxurious mane. The most accepted attempt at explaining baldness up to this point was the death of these stem cells. But a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation has turned that argument on its head.

On its smooth, hairless head.

George Cotsarelis, chairman of University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine’s dermatology department and co-author of the study, told Health Day that the stem cells are only malfunctioning. And if they’re only malfunctioning, that means they’re still there, and they might respond to treatment!

To figure this out, the researchers took samples of tissue from scalps of both variety and tested them for evidence of dead stem cells. They found that hairy scalp tissue and bald scalp tissue had about the same amount of stem cells. But there was one difference: the bald scalp tissue had significantly fewer progenitor cells. (Remember? The ones that grow hair.)

So a bald scalp isn’t a stem cell graveyard. It’s just a big, comfy couch where they lazily neglect their job.

Or, as the researchers put it in the study:

Surprisingly, we found that a well-demarcated population of cells expressing high levels of both CD200 and ITGA6 was markedly decreased in haired versus bald scalp (Figure 2, D–F; 2.3% ± 0.7% vs. 0.28% ± 0.1%, P = 0.005, n = 9). This population represented 10.0% ± 0.1% (n = 9) of the entire CD200+ population; to our knowledge, it has not been studied previously.

Right?

Anyway, Cotsarelis told Health Day, “Now that we have identified the problem we can try to better understand how to get a stem cell to make and activate a progenitor cells. And then we should be able to develop new ways of treating baldness.”

So what’s the treatment? And when’s it coming?

They don’t know. And probably not for a long time.

As Cotsarelis put it, “Taking something from the lab to the clinic often takes decades, so there’s no treatment around the corner. It’s really going to take quite a while to figure this out.”

Awesome.