Protein discovery could lead to treatment of early baldness
A treatment for thinning hair could be developed after US researchers identify a protein that could be responsible for male pattern baldness.
Researchers in the US have identified a chemical that could be responsible for the most common cause of baldness in men, and their discovery could lead to more effective and targeted treatments. One UK expert described the findings as "promising", and said while it would not pave the way for a cure for baldness, it could help men who were beginning to lose their hair.
Male pattern baldness
Male pattern baldness affects about 80% of men under the age of 70. It occurs when hair follicles shrink and produce microscopic hairs which grow for a shorter amount of time than normal follicles. The main symptom is a receding hairline and hair loss at the crown of the head. Toward the end of the stages of male pattern baldness, the only hair remaining is in a horseshoe pattern around the base of the scalp. According to a study in Science Translational Medicine, bald men tend to have an abnormal amount of a protein called prostaglandin D2 (PGD2) on their scalps. This protein and its derivative, 15-dPGJ2, inhibit hair growth."We have really identified a factor that is way out of whack by actually studying the disorder," says Dr George Cotsarelis, a professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania.
The researchers looked for potential biological causes of baldness, examining scalp tissue from balding and non-bald spots from men with male pattern baldness - also known as androgenetic alopecia - and then corroborating their findings using mice. They found that levels of PGD2 protein in bald areas of the scalp were three times higher than in areas of the scalp where hair was growing. When the researchers added PGD2 to cultured hair follicles, the hair was significantly shorter, while its derivative, 15-dPGJ2, completely blocked hair growth.
New medications being researched
The authors write that their findings should lead to new medications which inhibit the action of PGD2 and delay male pattern baldness. "This should work in all men who have male pattern baldness,” Dr Cotsarelis tells us. Some companies are already developing such compounds, in one case for asthma. “It shouldn’t take too long,” he says.The authors call for further studies that might involve testing creams, and could also determine whether targeting prostaglandins will benefit women with male pattern baldness.
'No cure for baldness'
"This is very promising research and much better than anything that's come out in the last few years," says Marilyn Sherlock, chairman of the Institute of Trichologists. However, she tells us: "I would be very surprised if this helps a bald man."Mrs Sherlock believes treatments based on this research would be more likely to benefit someone seeing their hair beginning to thin. "Once a hair follicle has completely collapsed and shrivelled and disappeared, you can't make a hair grow there unless you transplant it," she says. (WebMD)