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Of Balding Mice and Men

Researchers have discovered a lipid which may be the direct cause of hair loss for most balding men.

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Hair loss has long been a bane for the appearance-conscience men of the world. Everything from miracle creams to toupees to hair transplants has been tried to hide or undo this scourge of the scalp, and with 80% of men seeing some sign of male pattern baldness by age 70 it’s no wonder so many industries have sprouted up to remedy the lack of sprouting hair. While it is known that hair follicles in bald skin produce what is essentially short, microscopic hair, science has yet to discover how to restore that hair to its original length and thickness. Though there is no true cure for the problem, new investigations show some promise in generating one.

Following up on a study performed in 2011, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered a possible cause for hair loss. The journey started with an examination of balding scalps which revealed that hair-growing stem cells were as prevalent in bald skin as in skin that still grew hair. Because the cells were, however inactive, still present, the hope that they could be reactivated arose and focus shifted toward finding what exactly caused them to become dormant in the first place.

An abundance of a lipid known as Prostaglandin D2 was eventually found, exceeding the levels of normal skin threefold. When large quantities of the lipid were added to cultured hair follicles it was seen to cause a shortening and inhibition of hair growth. With further probing, it may be possible to undo the over-accumulation of Prostaglandin D2 and reignite the growth of hair in already bare skin or prevent it from stopping in the first place.

An earlier study of lab mice yielded similar results, and may help in developing treatments for humans as well.  The mice in this study, like bald men, still had a normal number of stem cells which contained the genetic materials needed to grow hair. By activating dormant molecular pathways in these cells, researchers found they could create new, healthy hair follicles. If the analogous paths in humans can be similarly activated, this could be coupled with a treatment for the removal of Prostaglandin D2 to grow new hair in men.