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New findings help explain baldness

A 38-year-old businessman surnamed Lee, who declined to give his full name, has done almost everything to slow down his hair loss.

Having long used a special shampoo made of natural ingredients, he recently bought an electronic device that emits laser beams and stimulates the scalp.

“I heard there is no way to replace the hair that has already gone. I just want to keep my remaining hair,” said Lee, whose father became bald in his 40s.

Many people may agree with Lee that new hair cannot grow on a bald scalp as it has lost the follicle stem cells that make new hair.

However, a team of U.S. doctors found Tuesday that bald and haired scalp tissue contained equivalent amounts of preserved stem cells and a newly identified stem cell defect, rather than any loss of stem cells themselves, caused genetic hair loss. 
A recent study found that a stem cell defect, rather than any loss of stem cells themselves, causes common baldness. (MCT)
A recent study found that a stem cell defect, rather than any loss of stem cells themselves, causes common baldness. (MCT)

Common baldness is characterized by a marked decrease in hair follicle size, which leads to thinning hair both in men and women.

In a bald scalp, the study found, a malfunction occurs during the process by which hair follicle stem cells turn into hair-producing progenitor cells.

The team hoped that it may be possible to cure baldness by restoring the normal function of these cells.

“The follicles that make hair don’t go away completely, but they become miniaturized, to the point where the hair they normally make to replace hair when it naturally falls out becomes microscopic and therefore invisible,” study co-author George Cotsarelis, chairman of the dermatology department at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said in an interview.

“There are still just as many stem cells in the bald scalp that can make hair as there are in the normal haired scalp, and that was an important and surprising finding.”

For the study, the team studied human scalp tissue ― bald and haired ― discarded during hair transplant procedures performed on 54 white men between the ages of 40 and 65.

The findings, published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, may someday lead to new targets for treatment of baldness, which affects millions of people worldwide, they said.

In Korea, an estimated 10 million people suffer from hair loss. Especially, those in their 20s and 30s have surged 30 percent between 2001 and 2008, according to the latest government data.

“Previously we thought the stem cells were gone, and if that was the case it would be very difficult. But because they are present it should be possible to treat,” said Cotsarelis.

However, those hoping for a breakthrough in hair-loss treatments anytime soon still need to wait.

Experts cautioned that there is no treatment around the corner, saying that it often takes decades to take something from the lab to the clinic.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)


<한글 기사>

탈모 원인 밝혀졌다

탈모는 모낭 줄기세포가 모발생산 전구세포로  전환하는 메커니즘의 고장으로 발생한다는 연구결과가 나왔다.

미국 펜실베이니아 대학 의과대학 피부과장 조지 코트사렐리스(George Cotsarelis) 박사는 탈모는 모낭 줄기세포 자체가 없어졌기 때문이 아니라 줄기세포는  있는데 줄기세포가 모발을 만드는 전구세포로 전환하는 데 문제가 발생했기 때문에 나타나는 현상이라고 밝힌 것으로 헬스데이 뉴스가 4일 보도했다.

코트사렐리스 박사는 모발이식을 받은 백인 54명(40-65세)으로부터 채취한 머리가 빠진 부분과 머리가 남아있는 부분의 두피조직을 정밀분석한 결과 머리가 빠진 조직과 남아있는 조직 모두 같은 양의 모낭 줄기세포가 있었다고 밝혔다.
    
다만 머리가 빠진 두피조직에는 모발을 만드는 전구세포의 양이 정상수준이  아니었다.

이는 모낭 줄기세포가 모발생산 전구세포로 전환하는 메커니즘에 문제가 발생했음을 시사하는 것으로 이 메커니즘을 되살리는 방법만 찾으면 모발재생이 가능할 것이라고 코트사렐리스 박사는 말했다.

탈모는 모낭 줄기세포가 어떤 이유로 모발생산 전구세포를 만들지 못하기  때문에 발생하는 것이기 때문에 그 원인을 찾으면 된다는 것이다.

머리가 빠진 두피조직의 경우 모발이 만들어지는 모낭이 완전히 사라진 이 아니라 모발이 만들어지기 어려울 만큼 아주 작게 축소돼 눈에 보이지 않을  정도였다고 코트사렐리스 박사는 밝혔다.
 
지금까지 탈모환자는 모낭 줄기세포가 완전히 없어져 모발재생은 불가능한 것으로 생각되었지만 줄기세포가 살아있다는 사실이 확인된 이상 희망은 있다고 그는 강조했다.

이 연구결과는 '임상연구 저널(Journal of Clinical Investigation)'  최신호(1
월4일자)에 실렸다. 

(연합뉴스)
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