A clue to male baldness has been discovered by a team of scientists, bringing fresh hope for follically challenged men.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania believe they have found the root of the problem that causes baldness and have created a drug based on their findings.
After analysing the potential biological causes of male baldness, scientists discovered high levels of a key protein, called prostaglandin D synthase (PDG2), present in bald areas of the scalp. This protein was not located in any ‘hairier’ areas on the body.
The PDG2 protein controls many bodily functions, including cell growth and constricting and dilating smooth muscle tissue.
Scientists believe that the PDG2 protein inhibits hair follicle cell growth as they discovered that bald men did had cells capable of producing hair - they just failed to develop further, therefore pinpointing hair-stunting PDG2 as the cause.
The study was based on tests on lab mice, which were bred with high levels of PDG2. When transplanted with human hair cells, the rats failed to grow new hair and eventually began balding.
Drugs designed to block PGD2 have already been created to treat asthma, but scientists are hoping that they could be used to treat male baldness within the next five years.
Researchers from this study claim that they’ve formulated pills containing the vital PGD2 blocking properties, but hope to expand the range into ‘topical preparations’ like creams, which can be applied on the scalp instead of in pill form.
“Essentially we showed that prostaglandin protein was elevated in the bald scalp or men and that it inhibited hair growth. So we identified a target for treating male-pattern baldness,” Dr George Cotsarelis explained, as reports the BBC.
“The next step would be to screen for compounds that affect this receptor and to also find out whether blocking that receptor would reverse balding or just prevent balding – a question that would take a while to figure out.”
The study was published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.
Talking about the study's findings, writer Josh Barrie (who has previously blogged about his own experience with male baldness), told HuffPost Lifestyle: "I couldn’t hide my excitement when I read about this new research potential – certainly not beneath a thick head of hair. It’s indeed promising, though after my initial feeling of joy, a sense of loss returned.
"If a new wonder cream is eventually formulated as a result of these discoveries, it will no doubt cost the earth, surely?
"And while the prospect of a better substance that helps retain hair seems realistic, is there honestly the chance of a fully fledged slap head acquiring a mane of Russell Brand’s calibre? I’ll believe it when I feel it."
Male-pattern baldness is the most common type of hair loss, affecting around 6.5m men in the UK. Shrinking hair follicles, which produce microscopic hairs that grow for a shorter duration of time than normal follicles, is the main cause of male baldness.
The baldness process can begin, as early as the late teens and by the age of 60, the majority of men will have experienced some degree of hair loss.
Male baldness can be hereditary but is usually caused by oversensitive hair follicles triggered by dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which derives from the male hormone, testosterone.
Although many men feel self-conscious about their hair loss, it doesn't always have to be a bad thing. Just look at these gorgeous bald celebrities that rock the hairless look.