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  • 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.

Every year, people spend about $8.5 billion on treatments for hair loss.

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

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    Summer posted on 2020/04/23
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