The team lead by Prof George Cotsarelis of the department of dermatology found levels of prostaglandin D2 synthase, a protein elevated in the cells of hair follicles located in bald patches on the scalp, but not in hairy areas.
"Essentially we showed that prostaglandin protein was elevated in the bald scalp of men and that it inhibited hair growth. So we identified a target for treating male-pattern baldness,” says Cotsarelis.
Cotsarelis goes on to point out that there are drugs already in development that target this specific pathway, including some that are in clinical trials as reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Moreover, the expert mentions that there is potential for developing a treatment that can be applied to the scalp to prevent baldness, perhaps a cream of sorts.
According to the professor, inhibition of hair growth is triggered when the protein binds to a receptor on the cells of hair follicles.
"The next step would be to screen for compounds that affect this receptor and to also find out whether blocking that receptor would reverse balding or just prevent balding -a question that would take a while to figure out,” he added.
According to the University study, follicle cycling tests were carried out on bald men and laboratory mice whereby mice bred to have high levels of the protein went completely bald and transplanted human hairs stopped growing when given the prostaglandin D2 synthase protein.
An estimated 40 per cent of men have noticeable hair loss by the time they reach 35, a figure that rises to 65 per cent by the age of 60.
Although a vast array of topical hair loss applications exist, the most effective treatments are considered to be pharmaceutical products such as Propecia and Rogaine.