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HAIR RAISING; LAB CLONING HOPE FOR FOLK GOING BALD.

Byline: By Craig McQueen

FROM comb-overs to hats to just shaving it all off, there are many ways for men to try and deal with baldness.

But scientists are now heralding a breakthrough in the search for a cure which could see the condition becoming a thing of the past.

Cloning your own hair in a laboratory might sound like a silly idea, but it could soon be a reality following the results of clinical trials.

Manchester-based firm Intercytex have come up with the technique after winning pounds 1.9m of government funding to research a cure.

Follicle cell implantation involves extracting a small sample of the cells which cause hair growth from the back of the head. The cells are then cloned in their millions before being injected back into the head.

The results of trials were presented to a conference of hair replacement surgeons in Rome, and suggested that two-thirds of patients could have more hair after six months.

Dr Paul Kemp, scientific officer with Intercytex, said: "It will revolutionise hair care.

"People will use this when they are starting to go bald. They'll come and see us, we'll take a few dermal papilla cells, grow them up in the lab, freeze most of them, and inject some. They can keep coming back as the balding process continues. I'm convinced it will work, it's just a question of fine-tuning the technique."

While the news will excite countless men around the planet who have lost confidence along with their hair, the technique is suitable for men and women and could be used for people who have lost hair through burns or cancer treatment.

And if the cloning method does prove effective in larger-scale trials, it could be a holy grail discovery that matches the success of impotence drug Viagra, which has generated billions of pounds in sales for makers Pfizer since being approved in 1998.

But it's not all good news. The cells have to be implanted 3mm under the skin, and it could take as many as 1000 injections for enough new hair follicles to be created.

And there's no indication yet of how much the procedure will cost.

However that's unlikely to deter some men, who pay as much as pounds 7000 to undergo current hair transplants.

The operations, such as that undergone by Sir Elton John and Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, involve follicles being cut from the back of the head, separated into single strands and transplanted to the top of the scalp.

Around 3000 operations take place privately each year, with men undeterred by the scarring left behind.

The new cloning technique means that only around 100 hairs would have to be removed to allow enough new cells to be created, leaving much less scarring.

The success of the research follows on from increasing levels of knowledge into how skin and hair cells work. The belief is that they can regenerate in a similar way to cells in the womb during early stages of pregnancy.

And of the 19 volunteers who enrolled in the trial, six-month results are now available for 11 of them.

Full results are expected to be available next year.

Dr Bessam Farjo, who is leading the research, said: "For many men and women the consequences of hair loss can be devastating, whether brought on by pattern baldness or as a result of cancer treatment such as radiotherapy.

"Hair surgeons and their patients have been waiting for something like this since the Eighties but in my view it may be as little as five years before patients start seeing the benefits."

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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 3, 2008
Words:614
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