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Stanford Researchers Find Hair Growth Trigger

July 31, 2008

PALO ALTO, Calif. _ Watch out, Rogaine.

Stanford University researchers have pinpointed a molecule that triggers hair follicle growth in mice, a treatment that one day could eventually mean some shaggy dos, or at least a few more strands, for humans who have experienced hair loss.

The report, published Thursday in the Journal of Genes and Development, focuses on a molecule called laminin-511. The molecule acts like an operator, transferring messages, or proteins, between the outer and inner layers of skin, an exchange that ultimately drives hair formation.

Unlike Rogaine or Propecia, products that slow hair loss, researchers hope the laminin-511 could potentially regenerate the actual follicles that grow hair.

“Loss of hair is not going to kill anybody,” said Dr. Peter Marinkovich, the study’s senior author and an associate professor at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. “At the same time, for some people, hair loss can be a really traumatic thing, especially for women.”

He hopes the treatment eventually could help patients who suffer from alopecia, a disorder that can cause hair loss in patches, or speed up hair growth for chemotherapy patients.

Evidence suggests laminin-511 could lead to more than fuller heads of hair: researchers believe the molecule might have the ability to regenerate other developing tissues, like limbs or even organs; but further tests are necessary to understand exactly how that process works.

In an earlier study using mice, Stanford researchers showed laminin-511 was essential for hair growth but they were unsure why. The recent study more clearly demonstrated how the molecule transfers signals within the skin in a way that particularly stimulates follicle growth. How soon did scientists see results? Mice injected with the purified molecule grew back hair in two weeks, at half the thickness of a normal rodent.

But if you’re itching for a dose of laminin-511 to restore your once long locks, hold off on buying that bottle of hair gel _ do-it-yourself treatments are likely years away.

The Stanford study presents a new understanding of how laminin-511 works, said Dr. George Cotsarelis, director of the Hair and Scalp Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. But more clinical trials are necessary to show how humans will react to the treatment.

Marinkovich said his team hopes to repeat the tests on animals treated with chemotherapy and later on human subjects.

The findings are “important in the long run,” Cotsarelis said, calling the Stanford study, “one of the initial steps.”

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