Root Causes – is a baldness cure in sight?

Scientists are getting closer to curing baldness. But is it a real problem? Should this advance be celebrated, or was it a wasted effort?

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have made a breakthrough discovery on the causes of male baldness, which they say could lead to a cure within a decade.

The researchers were investigating stem cells in the scalp. Stem cells are unique because they have the potential to become any other sort of cell - nerve, bone, muscle, or even hair. They are the body’s building blocks.

Without stem cells, it’s impossible for the body to repair or grow new organs, and scientists had long suspected that a lack of these cells might be the cause of baldness.

But by comparing balding and hairy scalps, the scientists came to a surprising conclusion: the bald have just as many stem cells in their scalps as hairier men. The problem is that the stem cells aren’t developing in the right way. Instead of working normally, the faulty cells produce tiny hairs that can only be seen under a microscope.

For men who lose their hair, it’s no laughing matter. The actor James Nesbitt said: “It’s horrible going bald. Anyone who says it isn’t is lying.” Some argue it can even affect your career – Britain hasn’t elected a bald prime minister since Winston Churchill in 1951.

The condition affects huge numbers of people. There are 7.4 million balding men in Britain. Three fifths of men start losing hair before they reach forty, and for a quarter of men, it starts in their twenties, or even earlier.

With this new discovery, scientists might be able to fix male baldness once and for all.

Good News?

For millions around the world, a real cure for baldness would be very good news. But does it really matter? Many say yes. Hair-loss is hard to live with, and people will do anything to avoid it. Some stand on their heads to encourage blood flow. Others opt for expensive surgery.

Even in ancient times it was a genuine problem. One doctor, 2500 years ago, is said to have tried rubbing pigeon droppings into his scalp. Wouldn’t sparing men that kind of hardship be an obviously good thing?

On the other hand, of all diseases, should scientists be devoting so much effort to curing this one? After all, cholera or malaria kill millions each year while baldness just restricts our choice of haircut. Instead of developing costly treatments, couldn’t we all just learn to be less obsessed with the way we look?

You Decide

  1. How would you feel if you started going bald tomorrow? How do you think it would affect your life?
  2. Should scientists be made to research only the most ‘useful’ subjects? If so, who decides what those subjects are?

Activities

  1. See how many rude names for bald people you can think of e.g. “slap-head” or “shiny-top”? Now write a short essay explaining how you would feel if you lost your hair and someone used names like that against you?
  2. In groups, decide which diseases in the world you would most like to find cures for and why. Perhaps you, or someone you know, have had an illness?

Some People Say...

“I beat the people from China. I win against China. You can win against China if you're smart.”

Donald Trump

What do you think?

Q & A

What happened?
Scientists in America think they’ve uncovered the cause of baldness.
Is that important?
The scientists hope so. They found that some of the body’s natura l building blocks are faulty. If they can repair these building blocks, called “stem cells” they might be able to cure baldness.
Is baldness a real problem?
It affects more than 7 million people in Britain, and makes sufferers very unhappy. It can cause problems for people’s relationships or careers.
What do people do about it now?
People have tried everything. Some stand on their heads. Others pay for expensive surgery. In ancient times, one man used to rub pigeon droppings into his scalp as a cure.
So what’s the debate?
Well, on the one hand, bald people will be overjoyed if scientists find a cure. On the other hand, should scientists perhaps be trying to cure more serious diseases rather than spending time studying hair loss?

Subjects