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Genetic test for hair loss 2.0 arrives

October 28, 2008 | 11:56 am

As genomic science marches forward, the booming genetic testing industry has spawned a new and improved way for males to avert the agony of male pattern baldness. The folks at HairDX, the company that last January arrived first on the scene with a genetic test for baldness, say that the discovery of several new genetic markers for hair loss -- on Chromosome 20 and in the Androgen Receptor gene --have allowed them to refine (think "new and improved!") their services to men everywhere.

Androgenetic Alopecia, or male pattern baldness, is the most common form of baldness. By the age of 35, two-thirds of men have begun losing hair and by 50, 85% have lost an appreciable portion of their locks. A man's risk of developing what the American Hair Loss Assn. calls "this emotionally devastating disorder" increases with age. And by the time a man notices that he is losing his hair, warn the purveyors of the new genetic test, baldness has already gained a solid foothold, with as much as 50% of one's hair already gone.

Early detection is key, they add.

At a cost of $149, the new-generation HairDX genetic test will let physicians tell men whether they have a genetic variation that gives them a 70% probability of going bald. In the absence of this genetic variant, the news is a bit better: A man can expect, with 70% confidence, that he will not have a shiny head. That is a slightly higher level of prediction than could be had in HairDX's first-generation hair loss genetic test, says a company spokesman.

The news of the Hair Loss 2.0 genetic test was greeted with some derision by certain nabobs of genetic negativism.

"When Congress appropriated the millions of dollars to sequence the human genome and to fund the successor project, their hopes and aspirations clearly were to find a solution to baldness, and Hallelujah, we're only steps away," said Kathy Hudson, director of the Center for Genetics and Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University. "Our work is done."

Hudson did worry aloud about whether those who are at high risk of future comb-over -- or who had been given warning but didn't take action -- could still be subject to employment discrimination. Now, there's a public policy implication worth pondering.

--Melissa Healy