Given a choice, most people probably would not choose balding. But for the 80% of balding people who have the balding gene, there’s little choice on whether or not to go bald.
All too often people come up with their own theories about why they’re losing their hair. They aren’t eating right. Their hair follicles are all clogged from their shampoo. Their blood doesn’t circulate well on the scalp. They wear baseball caps too much. Their mom’s dad was bald.
Except for the last one, these are all bogus. And the last one is only partially true. Baldness happens because of the genes people inherit from both their mom and dad.
A key gene can come from a maternal grandpa. But this gene doesn’t explain all baldness. People are just as likely to be bald if their dad or their maternal grandfather is bald.
Studies have revealed a small region on chromosome 20 called 20p11 as being associated with balding. This sort of thing could explain why people who are bald even though their mom’s dad still has a full head of hair.
Human DNA is a long string of 3 billion letters (or bases). Each human is unique because these letters are arranged in a certain order.
It is too expensive to figure out all of the bases of the DNA from the hundreds or thousands of people involved in a single study. So what scientists have done is figured out millions of places in human DNA where these letters are often different between people.
These differences or SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) work like landmarks to help scientists find which part of the DNA to focus on. They are like clues on a treasure map. This is how DNA searches work too. Scientists use SNPs as landmarks to narrow down DNA regions to focus on.
Instead of a treasure map, scientists use the HapMap. They use this map to compare the DNA of people with and without the condition they are interested in. In these studies, scientists compared the DNA of balding and non-balding men. Research is still being done as to the “why” of chromosome 20, but so far it is known that men with this particular genetic variant are seven times more likely to experience balding than those who do not carry it.
Could Gene Therapy Help?
Gene therapy is the process of changing genes of existing cells in the body, and thereby altering cell function. Gene therapy requires learning how an inherited medical condition occurs at the DNA molecular level, and then going in and fixing it. With gene therapy, the hair follicles with DHT-sensitive cells could be changed into follicles with DHT-resistant cells, and the hair follicles would continue to grow new hairs for a lifetime.
But gene therapy, as it exists now, involves several very difficult steps. While research in gene therapy is making considerable advances, it is a medical treatment still in its infancy. The future of gene therapy could, however, show promise for hair loss. Unfortunately, it may be years away.