stem cells and baldnessWe have always struggled to understand the exact causes of baldness, but do know that age and genetics can play a determining factor in the probability of you going bald. Now it seems we could have the answer to one of man’s biggest concerns, as a recent study has suggested that baldness is the result of a specific gene that regulates stem cells and how they regenerate.

What differentiates the stem cells in our hair from those in our blood that constantly renew, is that stem cells in hair follicles have dormant phases and aren’t always active. This means that when the stem cells are active they are producing hair and when dormant they are not.

As we age thinner hair is produced by our follicles or maybe even no hair at all. Researchers have found that this is more likely if a particular gene is not present in the follicle, Collagen 17A1.

What impact does Collagen 17A1 have on hair?

It was found that the lower amounts of this gene that are present in the follicle, the thinner the hair is likely to be, and if there is no Collagen 17A1 at all then the follicle eventually regenerates as skin and replaces the hair.

How can this knowledge be implemented for hair loss treatments?

A team at the University of Colorado found that if you remove a certain gene for the Foxc1 protein, then you could trick the body into avoiding the dormancy period of the stem cells in hair follicles.

The team found that these cells ‘know when to stop’ for the dormancy period, but if we can interfere with this factor, then the dormant period can be shortened and allow for continued hair growth.

What all this means is that whilst male pattern baldness is not the sole cause of all hair loss in men, those who are affected by it are inheriting hair follicles with this genetic sensitivity.

Scientists have long known that DHT – a by-product of testosterone – shrinks hair follicles and if it can be suppressed then hair continues to grow. This genetic sensitivity is preventable if caught early enough, as the follicle has to be exposed to DHT and reduced Collagen 17A1 for a long period of time before the hair begins to thin.

So there is hope for people worried about male pattern baldness; by treating this genetic sensitivity you could either prevent or reduce the effects of balding completely.

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By Ian Watson

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