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Accidental Discovery May Lead To Hair Loss Cure?

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    Posted: April 20 2011 at 11:18pm
Scientists at UCLA made an accidental discovery which could lead to curing baldness. 

Originally the UCLA scientists wished to study how to reduce the harmful impact of chronic stress. 

What they found is that stress is beneficial in small doses, heightening the ability to run away from predators or to concentrate while taking an exam.

Chronic stress can bring about an array of mental or physical disorders such as high blood pressure, anxiety disorders, rheumatic diseases, muscle pain, a weakened immune system and neurodegenerative diseases.

Chronic stress can also cause hair to fall out.

The UCLA team, led by Yvette Tache was investigating the role of CFR or cortisotropin-releasing factor in stress.  CFR is one of a number of hormones that mediate the body's stress responses.  Secreted from the hypothalamus, CRF acts at various sites in the brain and other parts of the body to mediate the stress response.

In the gut, CRF stimulates a colonic stress response that includes motility, defecation, and diarrhea.

But animal models of high anxiety show that elevated CRF can lead to irritable bowel syndrome or even make it worse.

Trying to find a way to block these effects, Taches team employed a mouse genetically altered to produce abnormally high levels of CRF. These mice always lost their hair, initially a side effect of little importance to the researchers.

In an effort to allay the harmful effects of elevated CRF Taches team injected the CRF-overexpressing mice with CRF blockers. They injected the mice once a day for five days then put them back in their cages.

Three months later they returned to the cages to find that the once-bald mice had grown their hair back. Surprised, the researchers actually thought that someone had mixed up the mice. But going back to the records confirmed that these were indeed the same CRF-overexpressing mice. So then they repeated the experiment and again turned bald mice into mice with backs of lush, full hair convincing to the touch, ready to step out into the field with a newly found confidence. The effect was fast, too. Row B is a picture of mice just 3 days following the final injection.

Hair follicles express receptors for CRF. Over-activating the receptors leads to follicle atrophy: the hair stops growing and eventually falls out.

The exciting news for the hairline challenged is that blocking CRF actually reversed the atrophy and the mice regrew all of their hair back, a feat that both Rogaine or Propeciathe leading pharmaceutical hair loss treatments do moderately well.

In addition to the amazing amount of regrowth observed in this study, an added benefit might be the duration of the CRF blocker effects. After only five days of injections, hair regrowth lasted for over four months. In contrast, both Rogaine and Propecia require daily treatments, and stopping treatments will result in any hair gained to be lost.

So when will CRF blockers hit drug store shelves across the world?

Significant validation needs to first be performed. For one, hair loss can be brought on by a number of factors.

Propecia works by inhibiting the production of a different hormone (dihidrotestosterone) and althought we know its a vasodilator, the mechanism of Rogaine's remain unclear.

The findings in the current study are limited in their application as this study models hair loss related to stress and thus may not be relevant to hair loss brought on by factors other than stress. Another limitation is that the study was performed in mice and it remains to be seen if the impressive results can be reproduced in humans.

Unless youve actually lost hair, I think its hard to imagine the anxiety felt by many who have. Our hair affects our confidence, how were treated by others, dating success, it may even affect our ability to climb the corporate ladder.

40$ of men will have lost a noticeable amount of hair by the time they're 35, 65% by the time they're 60. 

Hair loss isnt a problem just for men, 40% of people in the U.S. suffering from hair loss are women. Given these statistics, its not surprising that the worldwide hair loss treatment industry is big business. Hair transplantationusing healthy follicles from other parts of the body to replace atrophied ones on the scalpis actually the best treatment available, but it's invasive and for many, too expensive.

It's only a matter of time before the industry drug companies are working to get a jump on this potential new treatment target.

Both Propecia and Rogaine (generic drugs finasteride and minoxidil, respectively) were originally approved to treat conditions other than hair loss: Propecia for enlarged prostates and Rogaine for high blood pressure. In both cases the drug companies noticed the interesting side effect of hair growth, and poof: two drugs for the price of one is an interesting one, beginning with a scientific study of a male pseudohermaphrodites in a remote Carribean village).

Scan the numerous hair treatment forums online and youll see just how badly many bald and balding people want a cure. Stem cells represent a very promising new area for the future of hair loss treatments, either by stimulating stem cells in atrophied follicles or transplanting active stem cells from other areas of the body.

But research in this area is in its early stages and stem cell treatments are still a few years off yet. Given the limited effectiveness of current therapies, the hype surrounding the current study is understandable.

Women with hair loss may be especially eager to follow up on the UCLA study, as their treatment options are limited compared to men's due to harmful hormonal affects. 

What are your thoughts about this accidental discovery which could lead to a cure for hair loss for both men and women?

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