A cure for baldness may be available on the market sooner than previously thought after a breakthrough in negotiations between scientists and drugs companies.
Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania believe they have discovered the reason for baldness, an enzyme which shuts down hair follicles.
Dr George Cotsarelis announced this week that he is in talks with several pharmaceutical companies about developing treatments which could be available in two years.
Drugs that block the protein are already available on the marked as they are used to treat asthma and allergies.
Dr Cotsarelis and his dermatological team at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that enzyme Prostaglandin D2 (PGD2) prevented hair follicles from maturing.
The link between genetics and baldness have long been common knowledge but not the cause.
But when the team analysed the scalps of balding men, they found levels of PDG2 to be three times higher in areas in which the hair was thinning.
Earlier work by the same team found bald men have cells capable of making hair; they have just failed to mature.
It is thought that PGD2 prevents the cells maturing - and stopping it from working would allow hair to grow again.
In tests on lab and on mice, the compound stunted hair growth, the journal Science Translational Medicine reported in March.
‘Blockers’ of the enzyme have been formulated as pills to cure asthma and allergic conditions but it should be possible to turn them into a lotion which could be applied to the scalp.
Hair we go: At the moment men have very few options for treating baldness
Dr Cotsarelis, said: ‘The nice thing about dermatology and hair loss in general is that you can take compounds that maybe are being used as a pill and put them in a topical formulation.
‘We certainly think it would be good at preventing hair loss but we don’t know for sure that it would regrow.’
Lab test suggest the treatment may also help women who are losing their hair.
Female hair loss carries an even greater stigma than the male condition, but is not as uncommon as many people may believe.
About 40 per cent of women suffer from some form of hair loss as a result of hormone changes during menopause.
For men this number is significantly higher according to Dr Cotsarelis.
By the age of 50 nearly half of all men have some degree of male pattern baldness, a number which rockets to 70 per cent by the age of 70.
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