Nightly News   |  April 14, 2010

New hope for fighting hair loss

Researchers have identified a new gene involved in hair growth that may affect future treatments for male pattern baldness and other forms of hair loss. NBC's Robert Bazell reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Now to the relationship between humans and their hair. It ranges between frustration, obsession and desperation at time. We got a few of these folks here in the studio. We're talking about those who would pay any price, bear any burden to keep it, grow it, put it back. Science is trying. There has been a development. It's a big one. We hear about it tonight from our chief science correspondent Robert Bazell .

ROBERT BAZELL reporting: Hair is a multibillion-dollar business, and a cure for baldness is its holy grail .

Unidentified Woman: Most of my female friends , probably, would like a full head of hair on their male partner.

BAZELL: There are few treatments for hair loss , which affect half of all men and 40 percent of women by age 50, and often much younger.

Unidentified Man: Most people I know that lose their hair, they are pretty upset about it.

BAZELL: People have been known to go to great lengths to disguise their hair loss .

BAZELL: Dr. Angela Christiano knows hair.

Dr. ANGELA CHRISTIANO (Columbia University Medical Center): So my mom is a hair dresser . My grandfather was a barber. So my mom says I come by this work genetically.

BAZELL: She came to Columbia University to study general genetics.

Dr. CHRISTIANO: This is a snapshot of my scalp.

BAZELL: But 15 years ago, much of her hair fell out because of a rare autoimmune condition, alopecia areata . That must make you feel awful, though.

Dr. CHRISTIANO: It is awful. I hate...

BAZELL: Doctors cured her, but she set out on a new career path.

Dr. CHRISTIANO: Losing your hair is a really intense experience, and it's one that galvanized me and certainly changed the direction of our lab for years to come.

BAZELL: Now Dr. Christiano has found a human hair control gene in families in Pakistan and Italy . When mutated, it causes partial baldness from birth. This may someday lead to the baldness treatment so many dream of.

Dr. CHRISTIANO: We're certainly not quite there yet, but each gene leads us a little bit of the way further.

BAZELL: But for now, those like comedian Larry David just have to live with it.

Mr. LARRY DAVID: I'm a bald man, a proud, naturally bald man.

BAZELL: Robert Bazell, NBC News, New York.