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Cure for baldness, alopecia? Researchers accidentally grow hair on bald mice

Top row: Mice that received saline. Middle: Mice three days after their last dose of astressin-B. Bottom: The same mice four weeks later.

UCLA

Top row: Mice that received saline. Middle: Mice three days after their last dose of astressin-B. Bottom: The same mice four weeks later.

Hold onto hair hope, balding brothers, for our day may soon be upon us.

Word comes from the West that something queer has been serendipitously discovered in lab mice that may help cover our sad heads in hair someday.

Here's what happened:

A team of researchers from UCLA and the Veterans Administration was experimenting with mice to learn more about how stress affects gastrointestinal function. Think: mice colons.

The mice had been genetically altered to overproduce a stress hormone called corticotrophin-releasing factor.

As the altered, stressed out mice aged, they lost their hair.

Sound familiar?

The researchers injected the bald mice with a chemical compound called astressin-B, which blocks the action of the stress hormone.

Then they put them back in their cages.

They expected to monitor how astressin-B affected the mice guts, but when they returned to the mice three months later, they couldn't tell the treated mice from their hairy brethren.

All of them were covered with fur.

"We thought they were mixed up," said Million Mulugeta, an adjunct professor of medicine in the division of digestive diseases at UCLA, by telephone.

The researchers checked the ID tags and discovered they were, in fact, the mice that had been bald just three months earlier.

"We were all surprised," Mulugeta said. "Not only did it cause hair growth, but it did so in such a short period in time."

More tests confirmed the finding.

"The mice that received that antagonist (astressin-B), they all had hair regrowth," Mulugeta said. "We may have found a chemical compound that induces hair growth by blocking a stress-related hormone associated with hair loss."

After the discovery, they also treated the bald mice with minoxidil, which has been shown to regrow hair in humans. It resulted in mild hair growth, like it does in humans.

So could it work on us? Have we found the panacea for our pitiful pates?

"That is a big question," Mulugeta said. "We really do not know yet. But from our observation it appears that this antagonist somehow turns on the hair cycle in bald individuals."

The team, Mulugeta said, has been swamped by interest from media and private companies and plans to continue its research if it can secure funding.

The mice, shortly after getting their looks back, were euthanized.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.

Cure for baldness, alopecia? Researchers accidentally grow hair on bald mice 02/16/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 17, 2011 7:39am]
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