Trying to treat stress, scientists may have accidentally stumbled on a cure for baldness

Your body responds to stress in many ways. It gives you bursts of energy, and a reduced response to pain. It lets you run faster and farther. It also entirely messes you up. Stress releases a battery of hormones that give you superhuman abilities, and they all have down sides. Many of them result in bone density loss or reduced immune response, but one, the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) is a really nasty customer. It's been linked with severe gastrointestinal problems, increased drug use, and hair loss. A recent research group tried to cure the first of those symptoms, but stumbled into curing the third. At least in mice.

The group engineered mice with a heightened level of CRF. As a result, large patches of the test mice's hair fell out. The mice were tagged and photographed, and then given injections of a special hormone meant to suppress CRF, and put them back in their habitats. Three months later, scientists returned to find a habitat full of furry mice. The compound had caused them to regrow their hair. The researchers later found, in other tests, that the compound kept the mice from losing their hair at all.

The compound, called astressin-B, was also found to improve the gastrointestinal system of the mice, as well as tuning up their cardiovascular system. The compound improved every part of the body that had a receptor for CRF. (Which leaves us to wonder why CRF is being released into the body in the first place, since all it seems to do is try to murder us in various ways. Perhaps it's meant to kill us quickly so as not to give predators the satisfaction of doing it for us?)

Astressin-B could do a lot of good, but the cosmetic applications are really giving it heat; especially since one hundred percent of the mice regrew their hair. The group of scientists are now trying to raise money to get the compound into the next phase of testing. There's no guarantee that it will be as successful on humans as it is on mice - especially since the mice in the test only lost their hair in the first place because of an increase in the specific hormone that the compound was designed to repress. If the testing proves fruitful, a lot of things could change. (Although I hope the person pictured here never does. Don't do it Jean-Luc! You're perfect just the way you are!)

Via Discovery, PubMed, and The American Medical Association.