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Stem Cells May Cure Baldness

Sun Mar 14, 2004

By PAUL ELIAS, AP Biotech Writer

SAN FRANCISCO - Research showing that bald mice can grow hair after being implanted with a type of stem cell could lead to a cure for baldness, a group of scientists says.

The project marks the first time that "blank slate" stem cells were able to induce hair growth, said Dr. George Cotsarelis, a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist and co-author of the study.

The study was released Sunday on the Web site of the journal Nature Technology in advance of its April publication date.

"We've shown for the first time these cells have the ability to generate hair when taken from one animal and put into another," Cotsarelis said in a telephone interview. "You can envision a process of isolating existing stem cells and re-implanting them in the areas where guys are bald." The study confirms what scientists suspected for years: hair follicles contain "blank slate" stem cells that give most humans a full head of hair for life.

Although they are called stem cells, they differ from embryonic stem cells, the research on which has sparked a political debate because embryos are destroyed in the process. Embryonic stem cells are created in the first days after conception and give rise to the human body and its more than 200 different types of cells.

Biologists who study hair because of its regenerative qualities said the new study is an important breakthrough. But they cautioned that a baldness cure is still some years away.

"Like with any stem cells, the amount of information needed to get us from a stem to a fully developed organ is a lot," said Stanford University biologist Anthony Oro. "It will require a lot of things to go right and we are still along way off."

Two drugs now on the market, known commercially as Rogaine and Propecia, were first designed to treat hypertension and enlarged prostates but later were discovered to have hair growth as a side effect. Each drug has about $100 million in sales annually.

It's estimated that more than $1 billion is spent each year in the United States combatting baldness, mostly through hair transplants and hair plugs. 

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