From: Reuters
Published February 25, 2008 09:05 AM

Gene discovery may lead to new baldness drugs

LONDON (Reuters) - Researchers have identified a gene linked to hair loss that could lead to new drugs to treat baldness.

The gene is responsible for a rare hereditary form of hair loss known as Hypotrichosis simplex, a condition affecting 1 in 200,000 people, in which people begin going bald in childhood, the researchers reported in the journal Nature Genetics.

"There is a very good chance of developing a therapy to treat hair loss based on this finding," the study's leader Regina Betz, a researcher at the Institute of Human Genetics, said in a telephone interview on Monday.

Currently, Merck and Co's Propecia and Pfizer Inc's Rogaine are drugs sold to stop baldness, but they help people maintain their hair rather than grow new follicles.

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Using DNA samples from 11 members of a Saudi Arabian family that had inherited the rare condition, the researchers found that a mutation in the P2Y5 gene prevented proteins called growth receptors on hair follicle cells from forming properly.

This meant a substance needed to stimulate hair growth could not attach to the defective receptors and may help explain hair loss, the researchers said. The finding could lead to drugs that target these proteins to boost hair growth, they added.

"We can now search selectively for related substances that may be used in therapies for hair loss," Ivon von Kugelgen, a researcher who worked on the study at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology in Bonn, said in a statement.

"The exciting possibility here is that such medicines will be able to benefit patients suffering from very different types of hair loss."

(Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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