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Scientists working at the University of California, Los Angeles under Yvette Tache, have stumbled upon a new drug which may turn out be an answer to the balding woes of innumerable people around the world.

A new drug may turn out to be the answer to the balding woes of people around the world

The UCLA team was studying the role of corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF), a hormone released by the hypothalamic region of our brain in response to stressful conditions. An elevated level of CRF exerts different actions in different parts of the body. It can stimulate gut motility leading to defecation and diarrhea. However, in animals it may lead to “irritable bowel syndrome.”

In order to block these effects of CRF, the scientists produced mice in the laboratory which were genetically modified to produce CRF at abnormally high levels. The scientists noted that such mice always lost hair. To block the high levels of CRF in these altered mice, the scientists injected them with CRF blockers once a day for five days and then kept the mice aside for subsequent studies. To their surprise, when the scientists returned to the genetically altered CRF over-expressing mice after three months, they found these once bald mice covered with lush hair. They repeated the experiment and found that they had indeed stumbled upon a chance discovery of a wonder drug that may soon answer the balding woes of people around the world.

The mechanism of action of CRF blockers

It has been found that the hair follicles have CRF receptors. Over activation of these receptors by the high quantity of CRF produced during stressful conditions may lead to the atrophy of the follicles. This may cause baldness over a period of time. CRF blockers reversed this atrophy of the hair follicles resulting in the re- growth of hair.

About 40% men have hair loss by the time they are 35 and 60% of all men notice hair fall by the age of 60. Almost 40% of women in the U.S. have also noticed some amount of hair loss. At present, Rogaine and Propecia are the two leading products available in the market for treating hair loss. Rogaine contains minoxidil, a vasodilator drug which promote hair re- growth on regular application for 4 months to one year. Propecia contains finasteride which blocks the production of dihydrotestosterone, a hormone that results in the shrinkage of hair follicles. The medicine is strictly contraindicated in women and may cause loss of libido and erectile dysfunction in men. Hair transplantation, wherein the atrophied hair follicles are replaced by healthy ones from other parts of the body is an effective treatment but it is an invasive procedure and is costly too.

In such a scenario, use of CRF blockers to promote re-growth of hair seems promising. It produces results faster as well. Only five days of injection resulted in re-growth of hair that lasted well above 4 months. However, the drug is still in its experimental stage. It has been found to be effective in mice, but its action on humans is yet to be studied. Moreover, even in mice, it reversed the baldness produced in response to stress. However, besides stress there are many other conditions that may lead to baldness. The effect of CRF blockers in these other conditions is yet to be ascertained. So we see that a lot of studies have to be undertaken before the medicine is finally available in the market. However, this accidental discovery has definitely raised hopes for the future.

  • Peter Murray (April 2nd, 2011). Accidental Find May Lead to a Cure For Baldness. SingularityHub
  • MedlinePlus. Minoxidil Topical. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc. Disclaimer. March 23th 2011
  • Propecia. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc.
  • Photo courtesy of Pedro Ribeiro Simões by Flickr :