Scientists near cure for root cause of baldness

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The Independent Online
A CURE for baldness - an elusive elixir as old as snake oil - is nearer, with a study showing hair transplants between men and women is possible. Scalp tissue transferred from a male to a female continues to produce hairs for several months, says research today in the journal Nature.

Colin Jahoda, a scientist at Durham University who used his wife, Dr Amanda Reynolds, as the guinea pig, said the findings open the way to new treatments for hair loss. "This is the first step towards a treatment for baldness," said Dr Jahoda. "It is the first time in humans we have been able to use donor cells to teach the recipient cells to grow hair."

Skin surgeons dissected small fragments of skin from Dr Jahoda's scalp and implanted the cells into the inner surface of Dr Reynolds' forearm. To their surprise, the male tissue was not rejected and began to induce hair growth.

"The fact that my wife grew hair which was a different colour and type to her own means the two cell types must have been interacting," added Dr Jahoda. Genetic tests of the follicle cells from Dr Reynolds' arm confirmed they had both female and male chromosomes. So some, but not all, of the new follicles' cells must have come from Dr Jahoda.

The scientists tried to minimise the chances of tissue rejection by repeatedly washing the scalp tissue to remove other cells that may interfere with a successful graft.

"But the main reason why the graft was not rejected probably lies with the tissue itself," the scientists say. They think hair follicles have a special "immune status" which may prevent tissue rejection.

Dr Jahoda said more studies with volunteers will be needed to see if the lack of tissue rejection is a universal phenomenon rather than a one-off affair between husband and wife.