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Malfunctioning Stem Cells May Cause Baldness

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(FILE) A bald head. (credit: Getty Images/Brad Barket)

(FILE) A bald head. (credit: Getty Images/Brad Barket)

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(CBS) – Balding men and women may soon have a ray of hope, if new stem cell research on the cause of baldness pans out.

For some time, scientists believed that most balding people had a case of dead stem cells, referring to the hair follicle stem cells which turn into hair producing cells. But researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine now say they’ve found that those stem cells aren’t dead at all, just malfunctioning.

That’s good news for folks with receding hair lines and bad news for toupee salesmen. After all, if the cells are alive and malfunctioning, maybe they can be fixed.

There is “a lot more hope that you could actually get hair to grow in a bald scalp,” study co-author Dr. George Cotsarelis, chairman of the dermatology department at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, told Health Day.

Researchers found that there are just as many hair follicle stem cells in a bald scalp as a scalp with a full head of hair. The difference, they say, is in the type of hair they produce. In a bald scalp, the follicle stem cells fail to create progenitor cells – the type of cells responsible for creating thick hair. Instead, they make hair so small it’s microscopic.

Baldness occurs “because the stem cells are for some reason blocked or incapable of making these progenitor cells,” Cotsarelis told HealthDay.

Researchers are hopeful that this discovery will lead to developments in treatment, but those unhappy with their shiny domes shouldn’t hold their breath.

“Taking something from the lab to the clinic often takes decades, says Cotsarelis. So there’s no treatment around the corner.”

The study was reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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