Scientists discover a new potential cure for baldness

Male pattern baldness is the most typical kind of hair loss in men. 

A recent study discovered that a single chemical could be accountable for whether people go bald or not.

What is male pattern baldness?

Male pattern baldness or androgenic alopecia, is men’s most common type of hair loss. According to the US National Library of Medicine (NLM), more than 50 per cent of men above 50 will be affected by the condition to some degree [1].

What causes male pattern baldness?

One reason for male pattern baldness is genetics or when individuals in the family has history of baldness. Research has found that it linked with male sex hormones called androgens. The androgens have many roles, including controlling hair growth [2].

Every hair on our heads has a growth cycle and with male pattern baldness, this cycle starts to become weak, the hair follicle shrinks, creating shorter and more delicate strands of hair. Ultimately, the cycle for every hair stops, and no new ones grow in place.

Inherited male pattern baldness usually has zero side effects. Nevertheless, occasionally baldness happens for more severe reasons, like anabolic steroids, certain cancers, medications and thyroid conditions. See your doctor if hair loss arises after taking new drugs or if other health complaints accompany it.

Doctors use the pattern of hair loss to interpret male pattern baldness. They may conduct a medical history and exam to rule out individual health conditions as the cause, such as scalp fungal infections or nutritional diseases.

Health conditions may cause baldness when pain, a rash, redness, patchy hair loss, peeling of the scalp, an unusual pattern of hair loss, or hair breakage goes with hair loss. Blood tests or a skin biopsy and blood tests also may be required to diagnose disorders accountable for the hair loss.

Who’s at risk?

Male pattern baldness can actually start in your teens, but it more occurs typically in adult men – with the probability rising with age. Genetics plays a significant role. Men with close relatives with male baldness are at a higher risk, and this is mainly accurate when their relatives are on the maternal side of the family.

How to tell if you’re losing your hair?

If your hair loss initiates at the crown or the temples, you may have the condition. Some individuals will observe a single bald spot – others experience their hairlines receding to form the shape of a letter ‘M’. In some men, the hairline will persist in receding until all or most of the hair is gone.

New studies hold promise for baldness

In the UK, around two-thirds of men will face male pattern baldness [3]. One study states the finding of the chemical could “not only treat baldness but ultimately speed wound healing”.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, uncovered that an isolated chemical is answerable for hair follicles dividing and consequently expiring.

In the study publicised in the Biophysical Journal, co-author Qixuan Wang mentioned that as in science fiction, when characters recover fast from injuries, the idea is that stem cells allow it [4].

Scientists discovered that a single chemical is key to handling when hair follicle cells divide and when they die. This breakthrough could lead to effective baldness treatment and eventually hasten wound healing since follicles are an origin of stem cells.

Most cells in the human body distinct form and function specified during embryonic development that does not alter. For example, a blood cell can’t turn into a nerve cell or vice versa. 

Nevertheless, stem cells are like the blank tiles in a game of Scrabble; they can turn into different kinds of cells [5]. Stem cells’ adaptability makes them invaluable in restoring injured tissue or organs.

The team looked at hair follicles, as these are the only human organ that regenerates regularly and automatically – and learned that a type of protein called TGF-beta commands how the stem cells in hair follicles split and why some can die off.

According to the research, as TGF-beta has two opposite roles, it helps trigger some hair follicle cells to construct a new life and later helps orchestrate apoptosis, the procedure of cell death.

The research added that even when a hair follicle kills itself, it doesn’t destroy the stem cell reservoir. When the remaining stem cells receive the signal to regenerate, they divide, make new cell and develop into a new follicle.

However, scientists found that the stem cell reservoir remains when a hair follicle dies. When the surviving stem cells acquire the signal to regenerate, they divide, assemble new cells and evolve into a new follicle. In addition, the study authors affixed that it may likely encourage hair growth by triggering follicle stem cells, though more investigation needs to be done.

Meanwhile, another study has successfully regrown hair in a mouse model of hair loss utilising custom-made plastic microneedles loaded with rapamycin and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an active ingredient in green tea [6]. The scientists used an emerging microneedle technology to supply drugs straight to the inner layers of the skin, bypassing the stratum corneum altogether.

Here, cone-like microneedles were formed in moulds from biocompatible and water-soluble plastic polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP). The needles were then loaded with nanoparticles containing rapamycin and/or EGCG.

This study pioneers an innovative use of soluble plastic microneedles and nanoparticles to deliver drugs that stimulate hair regeneration straight into the inner skin layers. It also reiterates the possible health benefits of two molecules popular in the longevity field: rapamycin and EGCG. Microneedle-based drug delivery is not limited to hair regeneration and can be used for treating various other skin conditions. [7].

Current available treatments

In the meantime, there are several existing treatments for male pattern baldness. Although, it’s not necessary if you are comfortable with your appearance. 

A change of hairstyle, hairpieces or hair weaving may conceal the hair loss and are usually the least pricey and safest strategy for male baldness [8].

Medicines that treat male pattern baldness include:

  • Finasteride (Propecia, Proscar): is a pill that interrupts the production of a highly active form of testosterone linked to baldness. 
  • Dutasteride: comparable to finasteride but may be more effective.
  • Minoxidil or Rogaine: is a solution applied directly to the scalp to stimulate the hair follicles. It delays hair loss for many men, and some grow new hair. Hair loss comes back when you stop using this medicine.

On the other hand, additional treatments include:

  • Hair transplants involve detaching tiny plugs of hair from locations where it is resuming to grow and putting them in balding areas. The process usually needs multiple sessions and may be costly.
  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) is administered into the scalp to stimulate hair growth. This involves drawing your blood, collecting a portion rich in platelets and injecting the areas of hair loss over a series of sessions.
  • Using laser or light caps or helmets to stimulate hair follicles.

It is significant to note that suturing hair pieces to the scalp is not advised. It can result in infections, scars and abscesses of the scalp. The FDA banned using hair implants made of artificial fibres because of the high infection rate.

[1] http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/androgenetic-alopecia
[2] https://www.healthline.com/health/male-pattern-baldness#causes
[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/male-pattern-baldness-cure-treatment-b2142060.html
[4] https://news.ucr.edu/articles/2022/07/25/chemical-controlling-life-and-death-hair-follicles
[5] https://scitechdaily.com/potential-cure-for-baldness-discovery-of-chemical-controlling-life-and-death-in-hair-follicles/
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35890299/
[7] https://www.lifespan.io/news/rapamycin-loaded-microneedles-reverse-hair-loss-in-mice/
[8] https://bit.ly/3Qfy4WR

Photograph: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
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