Baldness cure by serendipity

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles were studying gut function but accidentally stumbled upon a five-day treatment that restored natural fur on bald laboratory mice.

Dr. Mulugeta Million, one of the leaders of the team, had no idea that inhibiting key receptors in a stress response pathway would have such a dramatic effect on hair. Earlier studies have shown that baldness and graying could be linked to stress and digestive disease. Million, a veterinarian and co-director of the UCLA/CURE Digestive Diseases Research Center said, “This was totally unexpected… We do not work on hair; we did not set out to study hair growth.”

The team was studying gut function in mice that happened to have alopecia or hair loss. They hypothesized that an increase in corticotropin-releasing factor (a compound that seems to play a role in how the body responds to stress) could be related. They injected a compound that blocks CRF called astressin-B, once daily for five days. The mice re-grew hair and the effects lasted for four months.

Million said, “We weren’t prepared to see anything like that.” This antagonist also beat the commercial treatment for alopecia, Rogaine or minoxidil that caused only “moderate” hair gain. Million and colleagues reported in the Feb. 17 edition of the online journal PLoS One.

The authors write that temporarily blocking CRF receptors could be “a breakthrough therapy for alopecia,” and might also hold potential for male pattern baldness and hair loss due to chemotherapy. Million said, “What we can reasonably say is that the antagonist initiates the hair cycle…In bald individuals, and in these mice, the hair follicles are in a resting stage. The antagonist awakes them. It turns on the cycle, and the growing phase starts.” Million added that the therapy prevented graying and also prevented premature baldness.

The next steps would be to explore how the drug works and study to translate the theory on humans with full knowledge of potential side effects.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

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Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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