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Scientists Researching Stress Stumble On Hair Loss Breakthrough
A recent scientific study might one day herald the end of hair loss as we know it.
A team of researchers from The University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) and The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may have unwittingly stumbled on the cure for baldness. The research staff was conducting an investigation into the effects of stress on the digestive system of mice when they made the discovery. They had hoped to find a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS—a disorder that causes abdominal pain, cramping, and irregular bowel movements—which is known to coincide with stress.
The test involved both male and female mice that had been genetically engineered to overproduce a stress hormone named Corticotrophin-releasing factor, or CRF.
As the modified mice aged, researchers noticed that the mice were so thoroughly stressed out that they had begun to lose hair on their backsides from their heads to the base of the tail. Some mice were nearly completely bald in that area, whereas others retained intermittent patches of fur. The scientists then administered to the mice doses of astressin-B—a recently-developed chemical compound which blocks the stress receptors in the skin from receiving CRF—once a day for 5 consecutive days.
In the days following the final injection, scientists noticed that the mice’s balding backsides had sprung hairs, which grew to full length. In 2 weeks, 95–100% of the previously-bare area had grown out. The re-grown hair was retained for the next 8 weeks and then largely maintained for 4 months post-injection.
In a follow-up study, younger mice that had the same stress-predisposed genetics—but had not yet experienced fur loss—were given the anti-stress hormone injections. The results confirm that the astressin-B compound is capable of not only reversing hair loss, but also preventing it.
Despite the fact that astressin-B has as-yet only been tested on genetically-altered mice, there is reason to believe that the compound will have a similar effect on humans as it does on mice, since the CRF stress receptors in both species are similar.
However, because the drug appears to have cured the hair loss by blocking stress hormones, it is not yet certain if the drug can be used to treat baldness caused by other factors such as old age, chemotherapy, or heredity. Even so, for the thousands of men and women who experience stress-related hair loss, this is an exciting discovery, and the study is a leap forward for finding a treatment for all types of hair loss.
The next steps, according to the research team, will be to discover how the anti-stress hormone works to reactivate hair follicles and to deduce precisely which cells astressin-B affects.
The complete study has been published in the peer-reviewed science journal PLoS One.
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--Gary K. Johnson