Science Reveals the Secret of Baldness

You're not bald, you just have invisible hair

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Good to know: you may not be bald. In fact, you may just have hair "so small it appears invisible to the naked eye." A research team led by Dr. George Cotsarelis at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia has published a new study indicating that the cause of baldness has been identified and a potential cure may be on the way in the near future. According to the university's release, "the researchers surmised that balding may arise from a problem with stem-cell activation rather than the numbers of stem cells in follicles. In male pattern balding, hair follicles actually shrink; they don't disappear. The hairs are essentially microscopic on the bald part of the scalp compared to other spots." Here's how research reporters unpacked the findings:

  • The Study: 'Cause' of Baldness Has Been Identified  The most succinct, yet informative, explanation of George Cotsarelis's findings arrives courtesy of the BBC's Michelle Roberts. Baldness, according to the researchers, "it is not simply a lack of hair, but rather a problem with the new hair that is made," she writes. "Although bald areas had the same number of hair-making stem cells as normal scalp, there were fewer of a more mature type, called the progenitor cell. This difference means that hair follicles in bald patches shrink rather than disappear and the new hairs made are microscopic compared to normal hair."
  • Parsing the Potential Baldness Cure (May Work For Women Too)  The New Scientist's Andy Coghlan takes a glance back at Cotsarelis's previous experiments for clues to a potential product that may help cure baldness. "In earlier experiments, Cotsarelis also showed that in mice, transplanted follicular stem cells were able to regenerate hair," Coghlan writes. "One possibility would be to take stem cells from balding men, multiply these into progenitor cells, and then return them to the scalp. Another is to find a chemical signal that reawakens the stem cells, so it could simply be rubbed onto the bald areas of the scalp. Cotsarelis says that although the finding is in men, it may be also be applicable to women."
  • When Could This Theoretical Cure Be on The Market?  "Within the next decade," Dr. Cotsarelis was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail's Fiona Macrae. The cure could come in the form of a possible "cream or lotion that is rubbed onto the scalp, or a technique that involves removing the stem cells from the scalp, kick-starting them in the lab and transplanting them back."
  • What About the Already Bald?  Los Angeles Times reporter Rosie Mestel raises this question and answers it herself. "Maybe nothing right now, but the scientists do note that the results suggest 'potential reversibility of this condition,'" she notes. "And, they add, these and their other findings suggest the hair follicle is a fairly complicated place. The new info should help them develop therapies down the road for a range of hair and skin disorders."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.