A cure for baldness… in mice

Sometimes, fantastic discoveries happen by chance. Take, for example, the discover of penicillin by Alexander Fleming. He left some dirty petri dishes by an open window when he left the lab for the weekend… but was observant enough to notice some surprising changes when he got back to work, which led to the discovery of the antibiotic. As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Now, a team led by researchers from UCLA may have found a chemical compound that cures baldness — entirely by accident. They were initially investigating stress-related changes in the GI system…until the research took them in an entirely new direction.

“Our findings show that a short-duration treatment with this compound causes an astounding long-term hair regrowth in chronically stressed mutant mice,” said Dr. Mulugeta, one of the authors of the research. “This could open new venues to treat hair loss in humans…”

For their experiments, the researchers had been using mutant mice that overproduce a stress hormone called corticotrophin-releasing factor, or CRF. As these mice age, they lose hair and eventually become bald on their backs, making it easy to tell these mice from normal mice, which keep their hair.

A newly-developed compound called astressin-B blocks the action of CRF. The researchers injected the astressin-B into the bald mice to observe how its CRF-blocking ability affected gastrointestinal tract function. They measured the inhibitory effects of this regimen on the stress-induced response in the colons of the mice and placed the animals back in their cages with their hairy counterparts.

About three months later, the investigators returned to these mice to conduct further gastrointestinal studies and lo and behold! the treated mice had regrown hair on their previously bald backs. They couldn’t tell the difference between normal mice and the previously-bald genetically mutant mice!

“When we analyzed the identification number of the mice that had grown hair we found that, indeed, the astressin-B peptide was responsible for the remarkable hair growth in the bald mice,” Mulugeta said. “Subsequent studies confirmed this unequivocally.”

One shot per day for five consecutive days maintained the hair-growth effects for up to four months. “This is a comparatively long time, considering that mice’s life span is less than two years,” Mulugeta said.

Furthermore, the same treatment also prevented future hairloss in young mice.

So far, this effect has been seen only in mice. But wouldn’t it be cool if it turns out to work in humans, too!

image credit: plosone.org

Row A: Male CRF-OE mice (4 months old) injected once daily for 5 consecutive days with saline at 3 days after the last injection and Row B: astressin-B (5 µg/mouse) at 3 days after the last injection, and Row C: the same mice as in the middle panel Row B at 4 weeks after the last injection.


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