Bald men's cure hopes buoyed by PGE2 protein discovery
The discovery of a hair-loss protein is raising hopes of a treatment to stop or even reverse thinning hair.
Drugs that block activity of the protein could provide effective treatments for male pattern baldness.
But they will probably only prevent further hair loss rather than reverse existing baldness.
Scientists made the discovery after carrying out tests on scalp tissue from more than 22 men with male pattern baldness, also known as adrogenic alopecia (AGA).
Tissue from bald areas of the scalp had three times more PGD2 than tissue from "hairy" areas.
Adding the protein to follicles in the laboratory blocked hair growth in both humans and mice.
The researchers pinpointed the molecular "receptor" in follicles that allowed PGD2 to exert its effects.
Around 10 drugs that block the receptor have already been identified, and could provide the basis of new targeted treatments. They are likely to be in the form of "topical" creams or ointments.
The US researchers, led by Professor George Cotsarelis, from the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in the journal Science Translational Medicine: "Our findings should lead directly to new treatments for the most common cause of hair loss in men, AGA..
"The potential for developing these compounds into topical formulations for treating AGA should elicit great interest moving forward."
The findings also suggested another approach which involved boosting a different prostaglandin protein, PGE2.
Multiple mechanisms may be responsible for male pattern baldness, said the scientists.
But while suppressing PGD2 may help those in the process of balding, it was "unclear whether men who are already bald will regrow hair".