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Unstrange Phenomena

22 February 2011

Surprise: Formerly Bald Mice Show How To Regrow Hair?

Stress hormone study stumbles upon possible hair loss cure

From Denny: Imagine yourself a researcher studying stress hormones when you stumble upon a cool discovery for the possible treatment of hair loss. The scientists were working with some genetically engineered mice that often develop head-to-tail baldness. Their balding fur is the result of overproducing a stress hormone.

This experiment at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Veterans Administration actually was not focused upon hair loss. They were studying a particular chemical compound that blocks the effects of stress on the colon.

The mouse story 

This discovery was one of those happy surprises that occurred after treating the Formerly Bald Mice with the compound for five days. The bald guys were returned to their cages where they frolicked with their furry mice brothers from a control group.

Researchers left the bald mice to their fun for a good three months before they revisited them to conduct additional experiments. What they found was nothing short of amazing. It was a good thing the Formerly Bald Mice had ear tags to identify them because that was the only way to distinguish them from their control group mates. All the mice, known as Formerly Bald Mice - who are, coincidentally, not a rock band, had regrown their fur on their heads and backs.  They  looked as healthy as any other Regular Joe mouse.

From Dr. Million Mulugeta, co-director of the pre-clinical stress biology program at U.C.L.A., looked inside the cage and wondered why the bald mice weren’t there: "I asked my colleague, 'How come these mice aren’t distinguishable from the others?' We went back to our data log, and we realized all the mice had grown hair. It was a totally unexpected finding."

This discovery was reported this week in the online medical journal PLoS One.

How the medical community received the news: dermatologist Dr. Melissa Piliang

How was their finding received in the medical community? Looks like mixed reviews from dermatologists and hair-loss researchers. Some, like Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, caution that the findings of a mouse study may not apply as easily to humans. She does say these results may arouse more interest in studying how the role of stress might affect human hair loss.

"We’ve certainly seen patients whose hair worsened when they are under a lot of stress. But what we don’t know is whether some of this genetic hair loss is particularly affected by stress. I think it’s hopeful for future research and treatment," she stated.

Dermatologist Dr. George Cotsarelis 

Another consideration, according to Dr. George Cotsarelis, chairman of the dermatology department at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, is this research may only be applicable to stress related baldness. This kind of baldness may stem from one-time events and not be useful as treatment for genetic baldness, saying, "It’s difficult to say that it’s going to lead to a new treatment."

Formerly Bald Mice researcher Dr. Mulugeta 

Circling back to the Formerly Bald Mice researcher, Dr. Mulugeta, he said he is "hopeful the findings will lead to new avenues of hair-loss research."

With a discovery this astounding, you know the researchers just had to repeat their experiment several times to verify it. Read that as "I can't believe my eyes!" from the science guys.

Since they had ignored the original Formerly Bald Mice for three months they wanted to test the new groups to see just how fast the original mice actually regrew their fur. Turns out as they were treated with tiny doses of the compound for five days, just like the first mice, and they were able to regrow their fur in just a few weeks.

Experiments to see if prevention was also a cure for hair loss 

Researchers tried yet another experiment by injecting the young mice before their hair fell out. What happened? Those mice never went bald. What researchers took away from that is the suggestion this compound is not only great to help regrow lost hair but also prevent age-related hair loss. Definitely a good day at the science office.

Mice only live for about two years. Scientists decided a long term experiment of four months was in order to observe if this treatment had a long-lasting effect. It did - and after only one series of treatments. No other treatments were necessary. The Formerly Bald Mice kept their fancy new hair and the young guys never did go bald even as they aged. Another good day at the science office.

Current human hair loss prevention treatments 

Current human treatments for preventing hair loss require constant applications. The major treatments are minoxidil which is sold under the brand name Rogaine and finasteride which is sold as Propecia. And neither of these treatments have the dramatic effect of what has resulted in this mouse study.

Hair growth cycles are different in mice and humans so a treatment for humans may still be years away.

Says Dr. Mulugeta, "We are at the early stage of the work. We have a very strong observation but we don’t know whether this effect could be seen in humans. How does it act? All of these things have to be worked out, but we intend to follow through."

Science specifics of the experiment 

For the science geeks here are the details about that stress hormone: the mice had been genetically altered to overproduce corticotrophin-releasing factor, abbreviated to CRF.

Researchers injected the mice with a peptide called astressin-B which was used to block the action of CRF. The whole idea of the original experiment was to measure how well the peptide could inhibit the effects of stress on the colon. It never was about researching how to regrow hair yet that is exactly upon what they happily stumbled.

Researchers still trying to figure out how this compound works to regrow hair or prevent baldness

Dr. Mulugeta says they still don't understand the mechanism of how the peptide triggered hair growth. They think it acted on the stress hormone receptors in the skin and near - or speculate maybe within - the hair follicle.

"The hair follicle in these mice is inactive. Something has turned on that cycle to put it back into an active phase, a hair-growing phase."

More unexpected benefits of this compound 

Dr. Mulugeta also commented that this agent went beyond preventing hair loss. It also affected their skin pigment. What that suggests is the compound just might have the potential to put the hair color companies out of business. The compound affected hair color, including gray hair. Order me up this stuff immediately! :)

"The evidence to show that hair loss is not a permanent loss is shown very strongly in this study, and that by itself is very important. The antagonist really triggers a mechanism that covers a lot of biological phenomena, including hair growth and hair color. We certainly intend to continue the research."

Balding men all over the world - and women getting their first gray hairs - just might be only too happy to fund his research.

*** Photo: U.C.L.A./VA The bald mice in row C are the same mice shown in group B, after treatment with a hair-growth compound. The mice in row A were given a placebo.

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