Why is there no cure for hair loss? | BBC Ideas
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Why is there no cure for hair loss? | BBC Ideas

October 15, 2019


Every year, people spend about $8.5
billion on treatments for hair loss. It’s an incredible figure, and it speaks to how deeply
people are affected by it, and how badly they would
like for there to be a cure. But the thing is, there’s no treatment that actually
regrows large amounts of hair. A new treatment for baldness
may be on the way. I’m interested in the
subject, obviously. The drug was applied regularly
and new hair began to sprout. A cure for baldness might be
the most perpetually delayed of all the medical advances we’re
told are just around the corner. Now there are a few prospective
treatments that are very promising, and we can get to those in a minute. But first, it’s good to examine
why exactly hair is such a tricky problem and how, over time, hype has often
played a bigger role than science in getting people’s
hopes up for a cure. So the first thing is hair
itself is pretty simple, it’s just dead cells
stuffed with a protein. But the follicles that make hair
are incredibly complex. They’re technically an organ
like your heart or your kidneys. They’re very specialised structures that form early in your development
and they can never be regrown. By the 22nd week, a foetus already has all
five million of the hair follicles it will ever produce, and the hair that these
follicles make can change, like how it gets thicker
and darker during puberty. But you can never grow new follicles. Now in terms of treatments, even
back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s when we didn’t know very
much about how hair worked, cures for baldness
were still promised and they were mostly
totally ridiculous. 50 guineas for 15 grafts. Hides some of the baldness. And does it? It does, yes. Experiments carried out on monkeys
are said to be encouraging. Testosterone injections, or have
steroids rubbed on your scalp, you could have electric shocks, or vacuuming on the skin where
the hair was supposed to grow. There was even a Japanese
pharmaceutical company that marketed a CD of music that
was supposed to promote hair growth. There were so many fraudulent
cures that, in the mid-1980s, the American Food
and Drug Administration actually banned any medication
that claimed to treat hair loss. Now some real treatments
were actually found towards the end of the 1980s, but the thing was, they came
about almost entirely by accident. Experiments which may produce
the world’s first real baldness cure. It happened by accident. Doctors administering a new
drug for treating patients with high blood pressure
found interesting side effects. A side effect of that medication
was it grew hair on people. It was a nuisance. It grew bushy
eyebrows and heavy body hair. And then a drug for enlarged
prostate called Finasteride was shown to slow down
or halt hair loss in some people. The drugs didn’t actually
regrow full heads of hair, and they didn’t work
for everybody, but they were incredibly
big news at the time. The media referred to them as cures and I think people thought
that they were the first step in a new era of
successful treatments. The problem was that they didn’t follow from any
big revelation in medical science. Basically, we have
a treatment for a process that we don’t fully understand. And incredibly, in the last 30 years, those are the only two drugs that have ever been
approved for hair loss. Since the 1990s, even though
we haven’t found any new drugs, we’ve learned a lot about
how hair actually works. It turns out that,
unlike other organs, hair follicles are constantly
remodelling themselves, changing structure depending on
whether they’re growing hair, shedding hair or resting. And they use stem cells to do this. It’s sort of like they’re
constantly in development. And they do use a lot of the
same pathways and signals that are used in early
human development. There’s a biotech company run
by a Turkish-American billionaire that has a very secretive drug that works on one of these pathways,
that’s currently in human trials. They say that it can regrow hair. And there are several
Japanese research groups that say that they can
clone your hair follicles, grow them up in a dish, and manipulate their
signalling to grow new hair. And then presumably transplant
it back on your head. And their work is also
in human trials. All of these discoveries have
launched massive new projects that make better scientific sense
than previous treatments. But they’re often in fields
that are relatively new and quite complex themselves. Stem cells are historically
quite over-hyped. And there’s still a lot we don’t know about the science
behind hair loss itself. So while a cure looks more realistic
than at any time in the recent past, expectations are probably
still way too high. Thanks for watching. Don’t forget to subscribe and click the bell to receive notifications for new videos. See you again soon.

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  1. Are you optimistic about a future cure for baldness? Comment below your thoughts and don’t forget to subscribe if you enjoyed this video – we’ve got new vids every week!

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