If Stem Cells Hold the Cure for Baldness, Will No Man Be Hairless?

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Stem cells have been touted as the cure for everything from Parkinson’s and paralysis to blindness. Last week, the Economist took up another stem cell miracle in the making: a cure for baldness. 

Scientists have been aware for years that stem cells can be used to grow new hair-producing follicles. People with male-pattern baldness have no shortage of stem cells in their follicle roots. Being dormant, however, the stem cells there cannot stimulate the growth of fresh hair. A race has been on to find the molecular signals that switch the follicles back into action.

Last week, a group of Yale researchers presented findings in that very direction. A team led by Valerie Horsley injected adipose precursor cells, a type of stem cell, in mice. “Two weeks after the injection, 86% of the dormant follicles were sprouting hair. The question now is whether the work on mice translates into similar effects in humans,” says the Economist.

The unbylined Economist blogger, himself bald since his 20s, ponders whether he would submit his gleaming dome to such treatment should it become available. His baldness has become a part of his identity—a feeling I know well. As a curly-maned woman, I have sometimes been tempted to try the expensive, potentially toxic treatments that promise to leave my locks without a kink. But some defects that science may conquer in the coming decades can be closely tied to identity and how we see ourselves. Do I embrace my frizz as a defense mechanism, as a way to make myself feel better about a situation that seems immutable? Should easy, affordable fixes for baldness or for crazy curls enter the marketplace, carrying on with these unfashionable hair (or lack thereof) styles will become even more of a statement.