The cure to baldness: finally here or too good to be true?

Hair loss: it’s something few of us will avoid in our lifetimes. According to the Internet, two-thirds of all men will eventually be affected by male pattern baldness. And it’s not just a male issue: around eight million women in the UK are thought to be currently experiencing hair loss. Although hair loss tends to effect men the most, and can often lead to baldness, hair loss in women is not as uncommon as it is often thought.

For most of us, hair loss is something to just quietly accept- a sign of ageing that comes earlier for some than it does for others. Some of us may be lucky enough to keep a full head of hair right until our old ages, whereas other men and women may start to lose hair from as early as their twenties. On the whole, most of us see it as an inevitable marker of growing older- one that cannot be prevented, and should therefore be accepted for what it is.

For those of us who do care about hair loss, there are plenty of so called “miracle workers” on the market today, and most aren’t cheap to buy. It’s a risk to spend money on such products, when hair loss is such a complex area of science, and to formulate a product that works effectively for everybody is virtually impossible. Similarly, be wary of the “home remedies” for hair loss, such as egg masks, coconut milk, green tea and, bizarrely, beetroot juice. Often these substances do not actually prevent hair loss, but work towards hair-strengthening, which is thought to slow down the balding process.

It might seem as if the mystery of hair loss will never be resolved, but behind the scenes, scientists have been working on hair loss remedies for years. There have been advancements made, but nothing too significant… until now, that is.

As reported in ScienceAlert, scientists at New York School of Medicine may have made a medical breakthrough, after discovering how to reverse the process of gradually going bald by successfully regrowing hair on wounded skin. Their research, based on tests on mice, could help develop better hair loss treatments in the future.

So what’s the technical babble behind the new discovery? The scientists activated a pathway in the brain called the sonic hedgehog, which is very active in the womb when hair follicles are being formed, but is noticeably less busy in damaged skin in healthy adults.

By stimulating communication along the pathway in fibroblast cells – the ones that release the collagen protein that gives skin and hair its shape and strength – the researchers were able to grow hair on wounded skin in mice with a few weeks... We will admit, this is impressive.

One of the team, cell biologist Mayumi Ito, said: “If we can get the right skin cells as chatty as they are in their embryonic form, we could eventually get hair growing back on skin damaged by scars and burns, as well as helping restore hair growth in people who've gone bald.

“That's still some way off – this research has so far worked in mice – but we now have a better understanding of the biological processes happening behind the scenes, when scarring and collagen buildup is happening naturally in a wound.”

Interesting stuff, right? This could be a big deal for the future of hair growth, as the doctors’ goal is to identify likely drug targets for hair regrowth. With current licenced drugs having possible adverse side effects, there is a definite market for effective, side-effect-less products. This is clearly just the beginning, but research is promising. We say watch this space…

Laura Shallcross