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Test-tube hair could lead to cure for baldness

An experiment at Cambridge University has raised hopes for bald men, but experts said Friday it could be years before scientists can apply their test-tube hair growth to shiny heads. "This is the real thing," said Dr. Terence Kealey, leader of the research team which grew hair in a synthetic blood product at the Department of Clinical Biochemistry.

"We have for the first time succeeded in getting hair to grow in vitro," he said.

The balding scientist stressed in a BBC radio interview that growing hair in a test tube "is not in itself a cure for baldness." But, he added, it provides the perfect medium for experiments and could lead to effective treatment within 10 years.

The results of the research are to be published in the Journal of Cell Science next month.

Experts welcomed the achievement, saying it could lead to preventing hair loss in men genetically disposed to baldness.

"Any knowledge of how hair grows and metabolizes could have various offshoots in preventing baldness from happening," said Dr. Ken Maxted, a dermatologist with the Glasgow Health Board who went bald at 18.

"Whether it is a cure for people who are bald, I'm not quite sure. I think it's rather nice having a waterproof head," he said in an interview.

Dr. John Firmage, a consultant at the Scalp and Hair Hospital in London, said the research was an important first step to understanding what affects hair growth and loss.

"Until now, it has been very difficult to know what happens" except that the process of balding is hereditary, Firmage said. "Hence the many lotions and potions which are produced."

Dr. John Romano at St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center in New York said scientists would be able to test new chemicals on test-tube hair without worrying about injuring someone's scalp.

"Researchers can use many more different chemicals because they don't have to worry about toxicity," he said in a telephone interview.

Kealey said the next step is to find out why many middle-aged men suffer a disruption in the normal mechanism that triggers the growth of new, replacement hair.

"I hope that within 10 years we could come up with a cure for baldness," he said.

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