IRVINE, Calif. (KABC) -- It's a truly hair-raising discovery. Bald is beautiful, but some local scientists are betting that you'll look better with hair up there.
Some people are comfortable being bald, but finding answers for those who want to keep their hair is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year for companies with products already on the market.
The drugs available, in general, simply slow the process of hair loss and have varying degrees of success.
At the University of California Irvine, a team of researchers said they have discovered a signaling molecule called SCUBE3 that actually stimulated hair growth in mice.
Their findings were recently published online at Developmental Cell.
"At first nothing would happen. But then as days go by, all of the sudden, boom, the mutant mouse grew hair like there's no tomorrow and that was the 'Ah ha' moment. Then we knew we have a really hairy mouse," said Maksim Plikus, Ph.D. UC Irvine professor of developmental & cell biology and one of the study's authors.
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Hair grows because stem cells in hair follicles become triggered to divide, hair loss occurs in part because triggering molecules become scarce.
SCUBE3 is a triggering molecule and UC Irvine researchers believe SCUBE3 can eventually be microinjected in humans to promote growth in dormant hair follicles.
In theory, the application would be a few times a year, but much work still needs to be done.
"It's quite reliable in mice, so if we were in the business of treating mice, we'd be starting tomorrow. When it comes to humans, it's much more complicated, so I'd like to be both optimistic and also realistic," Plikus said.
Scientists and researchers have been trying to solve the problem of hair loss for generations, but it was advances in computer technology over the last few years that made this discovery possible.
"Now we can digitalize the hair, so you no longer need to study hair on mice, you just go to your computer and you crank out the codes and see what molecules are there," Plikus said.
The next step is to begin the process of clinical trials and seeking Food and Drug Administration approval, but if all goes well, a commercial product could be available in about five years.
"As a researcher, it's often extremely exciting to find something that can have relevance to human health," Plikus said. "It doesn't happen every day, so when you find a piece of biology that is translatable to clinic, it's very exciting and it's a different level of excitement."
For the millions of people who experience hair loss, both young and old alike, their different level of excitement will come when this solution hits the market.