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One step closer to treating male baldness?

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Have scientists discovered a future cure for the 'thinning forest'?

The bane of many males reaching a certain age bracket -- the forever-present threat of thinning hair. If it makes you feel self-conscious, do you comb over, get hair implants, or shave all of it off? Perhaps new research could offer another option.

Led by Professor George Cotsarelis from the University of Pennsylvania, a new study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, states that the team have discovered a hair-loss protein that could become the first step in developing a cure for male-pattern baldness.

Male pattern baldness is the most common type of hair loss that develops in most men at some stage, generally after their 50's. The condition is also known as androgenetic alopecia (AGA).

The rate of hair loss varies; for some men it is only a few years before there is complete hair loss, for others it may take 15 - 25 years.

Typically, the first stage is for hair to recede at the front, and become thinner at the top. A bald patch may then develop in the middle, gradually enlarging and joining the other 'thinned' areas. Often, a 'rim' of hair is left around the back and sides of the scalp.

By identifying the protein which causes this common type of hair loss, treatments could potentially be developed in order to suppress it and prevent further hair loss -- although it is unlikely it could be used in order to regenerate hair growth.

The researchers carried out tests on tissue from the scalps of over 20 men with male-pattern baldness after experiments on laboratory mice. The team found that levels of a protein called prostaglandin D synthase were actve in high concentrations within the cells of hair follicles located in bald patches on the scalp, but not in areas unaffected by baldness or thinning.

The team said:

"Our findings should lead directly to new treatments for the most common cause of hair loss in men, AGA. The potential for developing these compounds into topical formulations for treating AGA should elicit great interest moving forward."

By developing a treatment to block the protein, it is possible that this inhibitor for hair growth could stop the process of hair follicles shrinking, and therefore a treatment may eventually be manufactured commercially.

Cotsarelis, the research leader, commented:

"Essentially we showed that prostaglandin protein was elevated in the bald scalp of men and that it inhibited hair growth [..] The next step would be to screen for compounds that affect this receptor and to also find out whether blocking that receptor would reverse balding or just prevent balding -- a question that would take a while to figure out."

Future studies will also investigate whether this discovery could be applied to assist women with AGA.

(via The Telegraph)

Image credit: Renato Ganoza

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure