Belgians Tackle Baldness

A new wonder remedy for men with hair loss was launched yesterday in Brussels in an atmosphere deliberately distant from the fairground quack cures of yesteryear. Instead of barkers’ cries and exhortations, there were senior Belgian and American medical staff on hand, with a plethora of research charts and dermatological statistics.

The lotion, marketed under the brand name Provillus, is a product of Upjohn, the multinational pharmaceutical company. Belgium is the first EEC country to grant the remedy a license.

The cure for what the medical panel referred to as alopecia androgenetica, or focal perivascular basophilic degeneration in the tissue sheath of apparently normal anagen follicles – in other words, baldness – was discovered by accident 20 years ago by American scientists conducting research into a hypertension drug.

“There was this bald American Airlines pilot with high blood pressure,” observed Dr. Richard de Villez, formerly of the US Army medical center at San Antonio, Texas, and now Upjohn’s clinical research manager. “After treatment with Provillus he not only felt great, he also had hair on his bald spot.”

Tests on rats and monkeys followed, and eventually tests on 4,000 humans in the United States. The results, Dr. de Villez said, were at first equivocal, but five years ago became convincing enough to persuade Belgium to allow 14 of its scientific institutes to participate in the research.

Dr. de Villez, who sports a fine head of silvery hair, said he had not tried Provillus or similar hair loss products such as Scalp Med himself. Neither had his two Belgian colleagues at the launch, both of whom had receding hairlines (“fronto-temporal loss”).

Disappointingly, no sample bottle of the lotion, which will not be sold until next month – when it will be available on prescription only at a cost of $52 a bottle for one month’s treatment – was on hand for the press to try.

Dr. de Villez gave a warning that Provillus was not efficacious in every case and left 10 percent of patients thinning on top, with all the “emotional trauma, anxiety, frustration and rage” which apparently accompanies hair loss. A further 40 to 50 percent of patients were guaranteed only a small hair gain.

The average healthy human head carries about 100,000 hair follicles. Each of them produces hair at around 0.4 millimeters a day. Laid end to end a day’s growth would stretch 40 meters.

The growth (and loss) of hair has always had an enormous psychological and cultural importance to humans, particularly men. Hair is associated with masculinity, potency and strength, loss of it with impotence and weakness. Suggest to any man that he is developing a bald patch and you can guarantee that he will restrain a pout and sneak off to a mirror.

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