Bald facts can be found in the genes, study says
It doesn’t mean an end to those latenight infomercials for hair in a can. But an international team that included McGill University has found a cause for male-pattern baldness – a genetic glitch that increases a man’s risk sevenfold.
The baldness “breakthrough” announced yesterday started as typical medical research: Scientists studying important diseases, such as diseases of the heart and arteries.
Then came an afterthought. Baldness has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease.
“So as a lark, we decided we would try to find the genes that increase people’s susceptibility to male-pattern baldness,” said Dr. Brent Richards, an assistant professor in the departments of medicine and human genetics at McGill.
Richards and his colleagues found an entirely new region of the genome which increased susceptibility for malepattern baldness. “What was surprising to us is that it was not really near to any gene at all,” he said. “It seemed to lie in this kind of gene desert.”
Whether it’s drug-able or fixable remains to be seen. “It will be a long time before the discovery will bear any fruit,” Richards said. “But it does definitely expand our understanding of what seems to influence male-pattern baldness.”
Androgenic alopecia affects 40 per cent of men. Women lose hair as they age, too, but males tend to lose their hair “in a rather definable pattern,” Richards said – on the top and at the temples, resulting in that distinctive “M” shape.
“Men and women with hair loss experience negative body-image perceptions,” the researchers write in the journal Nature Genetics, and it has spawned a $1-billion a year industry in the U.S. alone. Globally, annual sales for Merck & Co. Inc.’s hair-loss pill, Propecia, surpassed $405 million last year.
Until now, the only gene found for male hair loss was on the X, or female chromosome. “That’s where the idea that baldness is inherited from the mother’s side of the family comes from,” Richards said. “But we knew it only explained a fraction of this susceptibility.”
For their study, 547 older men with a full head of hair were compared with 578 younger men who had lost almost all their hair. The researchers found two regions on chromosome 20 that increased the risk of male pattern baldness. They confirmed the findings in 1,650 more men. Researchers from King’s College London, Iceland, Switzerland and the Netherlands also participated in the study.
By coincidence, a separate study published in the same journal reported scientists had isolated a group of stem cells in mice that can repopulate and maintain all cell types of the hair follicle.