Stem Cells and Baldness

It is revealing that stem cell research into therapies for baldness attracts far more public and media attention than stem cell therapies for heart conditions - human nature and human priorities are not what they might be. That aside, progress is occurring here just as in other areas of regenerative medicine: "Common baldness could have its roots in a newly identified stem cell defect, a finding that could potentially lead to new hair-loss treatments down the road ... Researchers say they discovered that a cellular malfunction short-circuits the process by which hair follicle stem cells turn into hair-producing progenitor cells. That defect, rather than any loss of stem cells themselves, sparks the onset of androgenic alopecia, the medical term for a type of genetic hair loss that affects both men and women ... In men, this hair loss is commonly known as male pattern baldness, marked by the familiar receding hairline and thinning hair on top of the head - a condition that sometimes leads to complete baldness. In women, female-pattern hair loss causes the hair to get thinner all over but rarely leads to baldness. ... Previously we thought the stem cells were gone, and if that was the case it would be very difficult. But because they are present it should be possible to treat ... A complex series of analyses revealed that bald and haired tissue contain equivalent amounts of preserved stem cells, which give rise to progenitor cells. Bald tissue, however, did not contain the normal amount of progenitor cells, suggesting a malfunction in the normal behavior of hair follicle stem cells. ... The follicles that make hair don't go away completely, but they become miniaturized, to the point where the hair they normally make to replace hair when it naturally falls out becomes microscopic and therefore invisible."



You're right, we humans tend to have strange priorities at times but this is a relatively harmless example, I think. However, isn't alopecia a welcome sandbox for trying out stem cell cures because not much can go wrong? And let's not forget that alopecia in its various forms -- some of which afflict children -- *is* a source of suffering! See, for example, this installment of the NYT's "Patient Voices" series:

George Cotsarelis made headlines a couple of years ago with this:

I suspect that it's for "political reasons" that he sounds very cautious in the Businessweek article.

Posted by: FrF at January 5th, 2011 12:08 PM

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