Scientists in California say they have discovered how hairs in the body can “communicate” with each other, and believe this may open up potential new treatment options for people with hair loss
A team at UC Irvine at the University of California says its research has demonstrated that individual hairs are not quite so solitary as was previously thought, and that they are, in fact, regulated by “a single molecular mechanism that adjusts by skin region to ensure efficient hair growth and enable distinct hair densities in the body.”
When this process breaks down or becomes damaged, it says, it can lead to patches of hair loss and, conversely, areas where too much hair starts to grow, such as the face, arms and legs.
Messaging among scalp hairs stops
Relating its findings to Male Pattern Baldness
, for example, the team points out that people who have this widely-seen genetic hair loss condition only experience shedding at the front - a receding hairline
- and crown regions, while the back and sides of their head often remains full of hair. In these instances, it is claimed, messaging among scalp hairs appears to stop.
“If communication between non-balding and balding regions can be reactivated, hair growth signals can then start spreading across the entire head skin, preventing regional baldness,” said study co-leader Maksim Plikus, an assistant professor of developmental and cell biology.
They key to potential new hair loss treatments would be to develop drugs which regulate communication channels by using the Wnt signalling pathways. These pathways are made of proteins that pass signals into a cell and tell it how to function, and several studies - including one involving Stanford University
in the US - have found them to be vital to the maintenance of hair follicle stem cells.
At present, male hair loss treatment
is based around clinically-proven drugs which have been licensed by the MHRA and approved by the FDA - the UK and USA's medical regulatory boards. These are finasteride 1mg and minoxidil, and neither's mechanism interferes with Wnt signalling.
Rather, finasteride 1mg
is an oral DHT-blocker - DHT
or 'dihydrotestosterone' being the hormone which is largely useless after puberty and binds to the follicles located around the top of the head in genetically-predisposed men, gradually weakening them, causing thinning hair, hair loss and sometimes eventual baldness. The vasodilator high strength minoxidil
is a topical product which comes in a number of formulations, all of which pro-actively work to promote hair growth. Why precisely minoxidil is an effective at encouraging hair regrowth is unknown, though it is believed to open up the potassium channels, prompting increased localised blood flow where the solution is applied.
New treatment route?
The Californian research suggests that another way of attacking Male Pattern Hair Loss may one day be possible. Says Plikus:
“In analogy with languages spoken in two neighbouring countries, it was unclear how the back skin ‘talks’ with the belly skin to coordinate the tasks of growing hairs. We showed that although different signalling ‘dialects’ may exist between belly and back skin, for instance, all hairs can understand one another through the use of similar ‘words’ and ‘sentences.’”
The team’s next step is to further analyse how the Wnt pathways (and other signalling factors that they suspect play a part) may be exploited to enhance hair growth.
Any new medications, including hair loss treatments
, can take many years to pass all necessary regulatory tests before coming to market. Therefore, as genetic hairloss is a progressive condition, anyone concerned about thinning hair now who is interested in regrowing hair and preventing baldness
should consult a professional sooner rather than later. Non-surgical hair loss treatment can only be truly effective on functioning hair follicles. So, once the skin takes on that tell-tale smooth shiny look, it means that the follicles have died and this area is now bald. At any point before this stage, specialists at a respected hair loss clinic
will be able to tailor a treatment plan based on the level and pattern of shedding being experienced by each individual.