IT is an embarrassing condition that has plagued middle-aged men for centuries but now scientists think they are close to creating a cure for baldness following a stem cell breakthrough.
Scientists at the Berlin Technical University in Germany, have grown the worlds first artificial hair follicles from stem cells. The follicles were created from animal cells and were somewhat thinner than normal, but the team were optimistic they could grow human hairs from stem cells within a year.
Research leader Dr Roland Lauster said within five years millions of hair-loss sufferers could grow new hair from their own stem cells and have it implanted their bald spots.
Dr Lauster told the Germany newspaper Die Welt that preparations for clinical trials were 'already in motion. It could mean celebrities such as comedian Harry Hill and football legend Sir Bobby Charlton could soon sport full-bodied barnets.
Stem cells are the bodys master cells. When manipulated in a laboratory they can be grown into any tissue in the human body from blood to bone and even whole organs. But although stem cells are seen as the holy grail for medicine, progress has been slow and there are few widely available treatments.
Current treatments for baldness include hair plugs where stronger hair follicles from the side and back of the head are transplanted to bald spots.
However, the treatment takes five to 10 hours and would need to be performed repeatedly to create a natural appearance as hair loss continued. Dr Lauster also believes that growing skin and hair follicles in the lab could eventually spell the end of animal testing.He said: 'Since 1950 the number of new chemicals used in cosmetics has risen 500-fold, and so has the need for animals to be experimented upon to ensure they are safe for humans. 'This could well do away with the need for them to suffer, he said.
The bioengineer plans to create a hair follicle test system that could be used for testing new drugs and cosmetics. He then hopes to develop a miniature liver, kidney and bone marrow 'biochip in conjunction with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology. Daily Mail