Discoveries raise hopes of gene therapy for baldness

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A cure for baldness may be a big step nearer after important breakthroughs by scientists in Britain and the United States.

Researchers at Bradford University have isolated the cells that regulate hair growth from a balding scalp. They are now engaged in searching for molecules from the cells involved in controlling hair growth.

At the same time, scientists in the US have discovered a way of delivering genetic material into hair follicles by packing it into microscopic droplets of fat.

Together, the two pieces of research mark a significant step forward in the search for a cure for baldness.

Dr Nigel Hibberts, of the Department of Medical Sciences at Bradford University, said: "Things are getting quite exciting. If we can isolate the molecule that causes baldness, we might be able to isolate the gene involved in controlling hair growth. Then some sort of gene therapy might be possible."

The key to the research involves comparing test-tube cultures of cells from balding and non-balding scalps and looking for their "growth factor" molecules.

Until now this comparison was not possible because no one had managed to isolate balding cells in a test tube.

Researchers do not know if the cells are producing something which inhibits hair growth, or not producing something necessary for hair to grow.

They hope that comparing the cultures will help them find the answer.

Ultimately the solution to male-pattern baldness might lie in introducing the right sort of gene into the hair follicles - which is where the American research comes in.

Dr Hibberts said: "The difficult part is finding the gene. I would be very surprised if there's just one special molecule. You're probably talking about a combination of several."