April 14th, 2010
02:19 PM ET

Scientists may have found a root of hair loss

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

Researchers believe they have identified a human gene that affects hair growth. The discovery could eventually lead to new treatments for male pattern baldness and even hair removal.

The team of investigators from Columbia, Rockefeller and Stanford Universities found that the gene, called APCDD1, causes a hair condition called hereditary hypotrichosis simplex. The condition is progressive and usually begins in childhood. The hair follicles shrink and narrow, causing thick hair on the head to be replaced with thin, fine hair, or "peach fuzz," a process called  hair follicle miniaturization.

The identification of the gene has given researchers  insight into the process of hair follicle miniaturization, which is most commonly observed in male pattern hair loss, said Angela M. Christiano, Ph.D., professor of dermatology and genetics and development at Columbia University Medical Center, and lead author of the study. "It is important to note that while these two conditions share the same physiologic process, the gene we discovered for hereditary hypotrichosis does not explain the complex process of male pattern baldness," she said.

The gene is part of  a specific signaling pathway that scientists had found could turn on and turn off hair growth in mice, but a connection to human hair growth had not been made.  The gene is disrupted in certain families with hereditary hypotrichosis simplex, Christiano said,  showing that the pathway plays a key role in controlling human hair growth, as well as mice.

The investigators are excited because these findings demonstrate that if the pathway is manipulated, it could affect hair growth in humans, and therapies could be designed to restore hair or even remove unwanted hair.

"There are as many people suffering from unwanted, excessive hair growth as there are from hair loss. These represent significant unmet medical needs where new therapies are sorely needed,” noted Christiano.

The finding of this study can be found in the April 15th edition of Nature

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soundoff (84 Responses)
  1. alopecia

    April 15th, 2010 17:22 ET

    "Yet if this had been an article on obesity, the comments would have been all about an societal obsession with appearance in a different way. the same balding people are often the harshest on those who are overweight. And dont try to tell me baldies cant help it and fatties can, that is ignorant and fallacious. Its all genes, and we all need to get comfortable with the hand we are dealt, but its okay to look to science for hope and answers."

    Susan: I'm FAT and I have alopecia. I think that you may just be a little touchy, because I don't recall obesity being mentioned at all, nor do i even remotely understand why you'd even bring that up in a conversation about hair loss. How about you start your own thing bemoaning how unfair the world is to us fatties seperately from this particular article?

    April 21, 2010 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. michael

    Where do I sign up? I would like to have a full head of hair again, I try lots of other product. That is either to much management or to much money for something that don't work.

    April 22, 2010 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. susan

    Hmmm-now who's touchy? The article didn't mention cancer/HIV either, but it came up in comments.
    Perhaps you misunderstood me. My point was that while we must pursue acceptance individually and societally of our genetic hands, embracing research which helps unlock keys to poorly understood conditions which cause discomfort to the afflicted does not mean we have unhealthy self images. I tried to use an example many could identify with.
    And in case you are wondering, I am a female with alopecia.

    April 22, 2010 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Laurie

    Here at HeadStyl.com we deal with hair loss sufferers every day, the emotional trauma they suffer is acute and affects every aspect of their lives and leads directyl to the manifestation of symptoms associated with recognised conditions from depression to agoraphobia... and yet it still unrecognised within the medical community as a serious condition.

    To raise the hopes of these people by suggesting that this advance might lead to a "cure" sometime soon is disingenuous. After all these years of promise we are yet to see a single gene therapy for any disease. The gap in our knowledge remains enormous, an analogy might be the difference between knowing that there is crude oil under the sea and knowing how to extract and refine it into useful products.

    April 23, 2010 at 02:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Nancy

    The news on this hair loss disease ie: Alepecia got my attn. I have been without ANY for 6 years, I have a very expensive/natural looking wig , none of which insurance covers as it is "cosmetic".No one ever notices the wig but I do point it out as I want people to understand it is a condition which gets little research $$$ and as a women it is very painful on the ego!

    April 24, 2010 at 11:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. jennifer

    Wigs are okay to deal with and adapt to, even though they're hot and sticky and the synthetic kinds which are more affordable can only withstand temperatures of 90 degrees or lower and I live in the south so you can see my dilemma. However, no eyebrows and no eyelashes are really a drag. Identity, sex appeal, not wanting to look like a freak or make others uncomfortable...these are the things on my mind now that I have alopecia universalis. Finding a gene is great, but how will this translate in my lifetime to a reversal of this awful disorder. Awful not because it threatens my life, just awful because it's so freakish and I don't enjoy being freakish. I'd like normalcy to make a resurgence in my life. That'd be terrific.

    April 27, 2010 at 23:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. charlee

    Monday, I was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata. I have 3 places where the hair on my head is already gone! I am having emotional waves of panic and praying to accept it. I appreciate all that I am reading to see what others are going through. It saddens me to read that some do not think we should do research on this along with cancer, AIDS,etc. This is so devastating for me as I have two daughters and 5 grandchildren that I never want them to have to go through this and I worry how the grandchildren will react.being around me. I worry that I may not be strong enough to handle in "public" and will not be social. It is different for me, I feel, as a woman to experience this. Bald man are, in my opinion, very attractive. Bald women, not so much. I'm not saying that men who lose their hair are not affected emotionally, I know they are, but I truly feel a bald woman is more affected emotionally than men. I know I am rambling, but I am in early stages of trying to deal with this. Jennifer, I have the same feelings as you.

    May 8, 2010 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Mandy

    I am sure everyone would love to see a cure for cancer and HIV, even those who are disease free. That same hope is shared among those of us young women & men who have lost thier hair.

    No, hairloss is not life or death. However it is tramatic. I am so pleased to hear there are people researching to help keep hope alive.

    I struggle everyday when I put on my wig & try to remember who I am, Instead of the montser I see in the mirror.

    Another thing I would like to see is congress make Insurance companies pay for wigs for those of us with alopecia. Wigs are very expensive, and only covered for cancer patients.

    May 12, 2010 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Maria

    Yeah....Hopefully something will come of this research..It is heartbreaking to see your child lose hair...it's not about being vain but about the ignorance of people who stare or the other children who make fun of you for being diffrent....its difficult to have your daughter come home and say mommy do I look like a boy because I have no hair..No matter how much they come to accept their ALOPECIA..they still have their bad days..SO Thank U very much to all the people who are trying to find a cure.....

    May 29, 2010 at 20:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Steve

    I'm 55 with Universalis and i developed this at age 36. For me, this was a good thing. In the beginning no doctor knew what was happening to me until i had the chance to be involved in the original UpJohn study for rogaine. Doesn't work for me but what i really wanted to say is that Bald is cool. Even if they were to find a cure, if it altered onething, what else changes? I hope others can find the positive/uniqueness that we are about.

    May 31, 2010 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Chris

    @ Ian

    I understand your argument, but having alopecia areata myself, it can be a very emotionally painful experience. Although I believe I have a lot of self confidence, losing something that has been a part of your life for so long (your hair) will definitely cause some sort of happiness...at least initially.

    I am happy with my image, who I am as a person, and am ready to accept the fact that my hair may not grow back. Again, I do not know if you have alopecia areata or not, but don't condescend on people that have it. I'm sorry we can't be as self-confident as you about your looks. It's sad that someone like you feels the need to segregate themselves from humanity rather than find the commonality between us through understanding. I think it is YOU who has forgotten what its like to simply accept that we are all human and are striving to be happy

    June 7, 2010 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Chris

    @ Ivan

    I understand your argument, but having alopecia areata myself, it can be a very emotionally painful experience. Although I believe I have a lot of self confidence, losing something that has been a part of your life for so long (your hair) will definitely cause some sort of happiness...at least initially.

    I am happy with my image, who I am as a person, and am ready to accept the fact that my hair may not grow back. Again, I do not know if you have alopecia areata or not, but don't condescend on people that have it. I'm sorry we can't be as self-confident as you about your looks. It's sad that someone like you feels the need to segregate themselves from humanity rather than find the commonality between us through understanding. I think it is YOU who has forgotten what its like to simply accept that we are all human and are striving to be happy

    June 7, 2010 at 20:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. shyrel

    I am 52 and lost all of my hair @ 35. Yes, it sucks for a woman. I have learned to live with it and so have my true friends!I hope we get a cure soon,but if not i'm ok with it.LIFE ISN'T ALWAYS FAIR,WE JUST HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT.

    July 1, 2010 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Metin

    i hope i hope and i hope.. i want my hairs, i want smile again.. thank you sciences..

    September 18, 2010 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Socket Set :

    my dad recently had a hair transplant. the results were great but the cost is very high-.;

    October 23, 2010 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Chrissy

    This is great news but I wish they were further along. I'm a woman in my 20s with Alopecia Areata and I miss my old hair so much. It sounds vain to some but it's so stressful and it's caused me to sink into a terrible depression. I'm praying that the research goes really fast and that there are workable therapies for those of us suffering hair loss, especially those of us whose hair loss has an autoimmune cause. Fingers crossed. 🙂

    March 7, 2011 at 15:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Parsa Mohebi MD

    That is a big step forward, but we do not offer any genetic testing in any of the Los Angeles hair restoration offices of US Hair Restoration due to it's high fuls positive rate.

    We do microscopic evaluation of scalp that can predict future hair loss in men and women.

    Dr. Parsa Mohebi

    August 8, 2011 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
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  21. Beverly Hills Hair Restoration

    Hair Loss can be extremely detrimental a one's self-esteem, as with any condition. It can be emotionally damaging as well – some treatments do work for some people but not for all – and sometimes a hair transplant is the only solution (for genetic hair loss). It's good to see science is advancing in finding more solutions for hair loss!

    January 14, 2013 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Beverly Hills Hair Restoration

    And not to mention .... hair loss being more in the media in general is a positive step in finding a cure as well. The more people are talking about hair loss, the more likely people will feel comfortable talking about their experiences and finding solutions.

    January 14, 2013 at 19:26 | Report abuse | Reply
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