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Gene found that causes rare form of hair loss

Balding head
An estimated 52 million Americans suffer from some degree of hair loss  

Could lead to cure for genetic baldness

January 29, 1998
Web posted at: 7:48 p.m. EDT (1948 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Scientists have isolated the gene that causes a rare form of genetic hair loss, a discovery that could help identify genetic causes of more common forms of baldness.

In a study published in the latest issue of the journal Science, researchers at Columbia University in New York City found the gene responsible for alopecia universalis, a hereditary disorder in which people are born without eyelashes or eyebrows, go bald and never grown any body hair.

"We were able to, for the first time, map a human gene for inherited baldness by scanning every human chromosome and localizing this gene onto the short arm of chromosome number eight," said lead researcher Angela Christiano, a dermatology professor at Columbia.

The hope is that the discovery of this gene will allow scientists to pinpoint genes that cause several other forms of hereditary hair loss, opening up the possibility of new treatments.

CNN's Dr. Steve Salvatore reports
icon 1 min. 53 sec. VXtreme video

Angela Christiano
Angela Christiano  

Until now, while scientists knew there was a hereditary link to some forms of baldness, they were not able to isolate any of the genes responsible.

"We're hoping this will lead us to the next gene and the next," Christiano said.

The American Hair Loss Council estimates that more than 33 million American men, and more than 19 million women, suffer from some degree of hair loss. The condition can stem from hereditary factors, hormone changes and even stress.

At present, there are two different treatment for baldness -- Propecia, a pill that works on the body's hormone structure, and Rogaine, a topical treatment which is rubbed into the scalp. Neither works in all patients, and both are a treatment and not a cure, requiring the patients to continue their use indefinitely.

"The difference between a treatment and a cure is that a cure would really target the source of the problem -- in this case, the genes that are involved," Christiano said.

And the discovery of how genes are related to the growth of hair could lead to other advances, in addition to a cure for some forms of baldness.

"It is now within our reach to design ways to grow hair, remove hair, even dye hair genetically," Christiano said. "And best yet, this can all be accomplished topically, reducing possible side effects."

Medical Correspondent Steve Salvatore and Reuters contributed to this report.


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