Like good health and youth, most of us take a thick head of hair for granted -- that is, until it is gone. For many people, hair transplant procedures can help bring back the appearance of a full -- or at least a fuller -- head of hair.
Like the cure for cancer, those new treatments aren't nearly ready for prime time. But they're coming, promises George Cotsarelis, MD, director of the Hair and Scalp Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
"In the last 5 to 7 years there has been a boom in the understanding of hair loss," Cotsarelis tells WebMD. "We've made great strides at the level of basic research. Now the question is how we can convert these findings into clinical benefits. Those kinds of leaps really take decades."
The great leap would be to grow new hair on bald heads. But smaller steps aren't that far away.
Why do we care about a cure for baldness? Look around you. Hair loss is extremely common, it usually happens when the normal process of hair growth gets disrupted.
What We Know About Hair
"The hair is real. It's the head that's a fake."
Until it's gone, hair is easy to take for granted. But a close look reveals the hair follicle to be one of the most interesting organs of the body. It's most unusual feature: It is self-regenerating.
Hair follicles live just below the top layer of the skin. You have them all over your body except, fortunately, on your lips, palms, and soles.
At the base of the follicle is the hair bulb, where wildly growing matrix cells become hair.
A little farther up the follicle is the mysterious feature called the bulge. That's where follicle stem cells live. When they get the right set of chemical signals, these self-renewing cells divide. They don't divide like normal cells, in which both halves become new cells that keep splitting and developing. Only one half of the follicle stem cell does that. The other half becomes a new stem cell, and stays put for future regeneration.