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Heads-up for the bald - a treatment may be near

posted 27 Mar 2011, 06:42 by Mpelembe   [ updated 27 Mar 2011, 06:44 ]

Researchers studying stress in mice have stumbled upon a powerful compound that they say, could reverse hair loss in humans.

According to statistics, more than half of all men will start losing their hair by the age of 50. Existing treatments, like minoxidil, have had limited results, and for many going bald is just something that has to be accepted.

But now a team of researchers from UCLA and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles say they may have stumbled upon a powerful hair-growing compound - completely by accident.

Dr Million Mulugeta and his team were studying how stress affects gastrointestinal function using mice that had been genetically modified to overproduce a stress hormone called corticotrophin-releasing factor, or CRF. Because of this overproduction of CRF, the altered mice also lost the hair on their backs, making them bald and visually distinct from other mice.

Mulugeta and his team were monitoring the mice's treatment when they made a surprising discovery.

"We noticed that some of these mice that were injected with a blocker of the stress hormone receptor, three months later they had fully regrown their hair. That was a total surprise for us, we were not prepared," said Mulugeta, an adjunct professor of medicine in the division of digestive diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The bald mice's hair regrowth was so complete that they could no longer be distinguished from the others.

Subsequent studies confirmed that this stress hormone blocker, called astressin-B, had both strong and long-lasting hair-regrowth effects.

"The antagonist we injected is very small, it is in micrograms it is in millionths of a gram, a single injection per day and five injections, that was enough to reverse hair loss," said Mulugeta.

The question now is whether or not astressin-B would have the same results on humans. Further tests showed that minoxidil produces mild hair growth in mice, just as it does in humans. This, combined with the fact that the stress hormone CRF is present in both mice and humans, leads the researchers to believe that astressin-B could very well translate for use in human hair growth in the future.

"Whether it works in humans or not it's something that we are very much interested in and something that we want to follow through. For now we don't know," says Mulugeta. "But there is some evidence that gives us hope that it may work, if not for several forms of hair loss, at least for the subset of population that suffers from stress-related hair loss."