A Cure for Baldness?

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The newly developed hormone hasn't been tested on humans yet, so there's no guarantee it will have the same effect.

THE GIST

- A newly developed anti-stress hormone may be a secret weapon in the fight against hair loss.

- The treatment not only helped bald mice regrow hair, but prevented young mice from losing it in the first place.

- The therapy was accidentally discovered during a study of a new treatment for gastrointestinal disease.

A study investigating a new treatment for gastrointestinal disease had an unexpected side effect: It reversed baldness.

Scientists were testing a new chemical compound on mice genetically altered to overproduce a stress hormone known as corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF), which, among other effects, causes mice to lose their hair as they age.

After five days of daily injections of a newly developed anti-stress hormone, the balding mice were returned to their habitats. Three months later researchers went to gather up the mice for follow-up studies, but their hair-less subjects were gone.

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"It was completely unexpected," Jean Rivier, with the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., told Discovery News. "They couldn't identify the mice except for their ear tags. That's when they realized that they'd grown hair."

Follow-up studies on younger mice that hadn't yet lost their fur showed the anti-stress hormone actually prevented hair loss.

Rivier and colleagues have filed for a patent on the compound, known as astressin-B, and set up a company to begin raising money for development and testing.

It's too soon to say if astressin-B would have similar effects on humans, but researcher Million Mulugeta, with the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine, is hopeful, particularly since the hormone restarted the hair growth cycle in mice.

"It is difficult to say if this will work for all forms of hair loss. What is promising is that this turned on the hair cycle. It triggered the hair follicles to start again working. Is it possible this mechanism is common to other forms of hair loss? Maybe," Mulugeta told Discovery News.

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"The next step is to found out how this (hormone) works, what cells are affected, what's turning on and off to cause the dramatic effects that we've see in terms of hair loss reversal," he said.

The effects of astressin-B extend well beyond the hair follicles. Preliminary results show a beneficial impact to the gastrointestinal system, the point of the original study, as well as the cardiovascular system and other areas of the body where receptors for the stress hormone are located.

The dosages administered to the mice were quite low and the effects were long-lasting -- about four months. The success rate was 100 percent, Mulugeta said.

Out of curiosity, the research team also tested what impact Rogaine, a popular hair loss treatment, would have on the balding mice.

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"It showed some patchy effects, but nothing like this," Mulugeta said.

The study is published in the current edition of the online journal PLoS One.