In the answer to millions of men’s prayers, scientists may have got to the root of baldness. They have identified a scalp chemical that stops hair from growing. Excitingly, drugs that block the protein have already been developed for other purposes, meaning a hair restoring lotion or potion could be on the market in under five years. It is thought it would certainly stop balding in its tracks – and may even coax the growth of new hair.
Britain’s 7.4million bald and balding men have limited options such as a comb-over, toupee or hair transplant. The latter is painful and expensive and success is variable. The breakthrough, from the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S, centres on a protein called PDG2. When the scientists analysed the scalps of balding men, they found levels of PDG2 to be three times higher in areas in which the hair was thinning.
In tests on lab and on mice, the compound stunted hair growth, the journal Science Translational Medicine reports. Earlier work by the same team found bald men have cells capable of making hair, they have just failed to mature. It is thought that PGD2 prevents the cells maturing – and stopping it from working would allow hair to grow again. Drugs that block PGD2 are already been tested by drug companies looking for new treatments for asthma.
They have been formulated as pills but it should be possible to turn them into ‘topical preparations’ – creams or lotions that could be applied to the scalp. Much more work is needed but a new hair loss treatment could be available in under five years, say the researchers. The study’s senior author, Dr George Cotsarelis,said: ‘The nice thing about dermatology and hair loss in general is that you can take compounds that maybe are being used as a pill and put them in a topical formulation. When you apply this to the scalp… you would allow hair to grow.
‘We could imagine using this compound topically would be a great treatment. ‘We certainly think it would be good at preventing hair loss but we don’t know for sure that it would regrow.’ Lab test suggest the treatment may also help women who are losing their hair, although Dr Cotsarelis wants to do more work on this. Learning more about hair loss could also have wider implications, as the process shares some chemistry with skin cancer and with wound healing.
Dr Cotsarelis said: ‘We think these findings will have implications beyond male pattern baldness but, even if they don’t, we think it will be exciting. ‘Male pattern baldness is the most common type of hair loss in men. By the age of 50, about 50 per cent of men will have some degree of male pattern baldness. By the age of 70, 70 per cent have it. ‘There is a large number of people who would rather have hair than not.’ Other treatments in development elsewhere include a jab that uses fat cells from the tummy to pep up hair growth on the scalp.