Trek in Remote Pakistan Leads to Hair-Loss Gene


t must have been one of the more unusual requests for scientific collaboration to reach Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan: a list of Dr. Angela Christiano’s research credentials, along with a snapshot of three bald spots on her head.

”I said I’d just been diagnosed a week ago with clumps of hair falling out,” said Dr. Christiano, a geneticist and assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. A computer search of the medical literature on baldness had led her to the Pakistani researchers, who had discovered people in a remote village with a rare, inherited disorder that left them without a strand of hair anywhere on their bodies. Writing to her fellow scientists, Dr. Christiano said she suspected that those families held ”the only key” to her condition.

”They said it was a pathetic letter,” Dr. Christiano recalled. ”They took pity on me.”

The result, being published today in the journal Science, is the identification of the first human gene ever linked to hair loss. The genetic defect described in the journal causes only the rare condition found in the Pakistani villagers, and not the more common types of baldness, Dr. Christiano said, not even the condition that runs in her own family.

But the newly identified gene appears to play a critical role in the formation of hair, and Dr. Christiano said that understanding its function might help scientists devise better ways to prevent and treat various forms of baldness. Read full article…

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