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Study: Bald Men Still Have Invisible Hair

Wednesday, 05 Jan 2011 08:48 AM

If you have common baldness, it’s not likely because of a lack of hair, but because of the way your stem cells make new hair, a team of U.S. researchers has found.

The discovery, reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, gives researchers hope in finding a way to restore the normal function of those cells.

Dr. George Cotsarelis, chairman of the dermatology department at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who led the research, said the finding “implies that there is a problem in the activation of stem cells converting progenitor [mature] cells in bald scalp," in a statement from the school. "The fact that there are normal numbers of stem cells in bald scalp gives us hope for reactivating those stem cells,” he said.

The stem cell defect leads to androgenetic alopecia, the medical term for genetic hair loss. Androgenetic alopecia is the most common cause of hair loss in adult men and women, according to The Hair Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes hair health and education.

Using cell samples from men undergoing hair transplants, researchers compared bald scalp and nonbald scalp follicles and found the same number of stem cells in bald areas and normal scalps in the same person. They also found that progenitor cells were depleted from bald scalp follicles.

A problem with stem-cell activation and not the numbers of follicle stem cells might be the cause for balding, researchers concluded. In common baldness, hair follicles don't disappear but shrink, and bald parts of the scalp have microscopic hairs.

“We asked: ‘Are stem cells depleted in bald scalp?’” Cotsarelis said in the statement. “We were surprised to find the number of stem cells was the same in the bald part of the scalp compared with other places, but did find a difference in the abundance of a specific type of cell, thought to be a progenitor cell. This implies that there is a problem in the activation of stem cells converting to progenitor cells in bald scalp.”

While researchers can't explain the reason for the problem, they are hopeful the stem cells can be reactivated, he said.


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