British scientists confident of baldness cure
by FIONA MACRAE
Last updated at 20:19 08 October 2006
Hair today, gone tomorrow: New treatment
could help those suffering from
alopecia or male pattern baldness
British scientists are working on a new cure for baldness and are confident they will have perfected their technique by the end of the decade.
So far, the remedy, which involves a series of injections under local anaesthetic, has improved hair growth in almost three-quarters of those treated.
Researcher Dr Paul Kemp, who is using himself as a guinea-pig for the pioneering new treatment, says the results are so encouraging that soon 'baldness will be a choice'.
And the Government is so tickled by the thought of a cure for the condition that affects 7.4million British men at any one time that it has ploughed almost £2million of taxpayers' money into Dr Kemp's research.
The treatment centres around tiny scalp cells called dermal papilla cells. Found at the bottom of the hair follicle, they are responsible for the growth of new hair.
Scientists at Cambridge-based biotechnology firm Intercytex, have found a way of harvesting these cells, growing them up in the lab and then injecting them into the scalp at a point where the hair is thinning. There, the cells happily sprout new hairs.
Science Minister Lord Sainsbury believes the technique could establish the UK as a 'world leader' in research into baldness.
Dr Kemp, a biochemist, said: 'The idea is to inject the cells back into the scalp, where many of them will develop into new hair follicles.'
'Sometime in the future baldness will be a choice rather than something you have to suffer.
'Any bald people will have chosen to be bald.
'There is huge potential in the market. Analysts estimate that a good baldness treatment could be worth £1 billion a year in Britain and many times that worldwide.'
The treatment, which is still experimental, could end severe hair loss in older people and thinning on top for the young.
Intercytex says the technique is quicker, less painful, and, crucially, gives better results, than conventional hair transplants. It is also likely to be cheaper than the current transplants which cost up to £10,000.
These transplants generally take two eight-hour sessions under local anaesthetic. The results are often patchy, with patients complaining the relocated hair looks unnatural and 'tufty.'
With the new technique, a small section of hair and skin is removed during a 30-minute operation carried out under local anaesthetic.
The hair is taken from the side of the head, where the follicles tend to live longer - and so produce hair later in life - than those on the top of the scalp.
The sample is then taken to the lab, where the dermal papilla cells are separated out and coaxed into multiplying in flasks.
After two months, the patient returns to the clinic to have the lab-grown cells injected into his bald patch, again under anaesthetic.
But it is not all good news for those with thinning barnets. A typical bare pate would currently need around 1,000 injections. with each jab penetrating 3mm into the skin.
Three months later, new hair should start to poke its way through the previously bald skin.
In early trials, five out of seven men treated experienced hair growth. Larger-scale trials, boosted by a £1.9million grant from the Department of Trade and Industry, are underway.
Male-pattern baldness affects two-thirds of men as they get older, and despite, being a supposed sign of virility, it can have a devastating effect on self-esteem.
Earlier this year, LibDem MP Mark Oaten blamed his midlife crisis and ensuing sex scandal on losing his hair.