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Alabama Researchers Turn Back the Clock

It’s not often you see the same news story reported in the science publication Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News and the iconic fashion magazine Vogue. But Keshav Singh, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are getting a lot of attention for their work to better understand aging and potentially reverse it.

Do you think they were listening to that Cher song?

“If I could turn back time

If I could find a way…”

The Alabama discovery, reported in the journal Cell Death and Disease, focuses on mitochondria, the parts of cells that turn sugars, fats and proteins that we eat, into chemical energy that the body uses to keep us going. That’s why they are known as the powerhouses of the cells. As humans age, we all experience a natural decline in mitochondrial function. Scientists have long known that mitochondrial dysfunction also can drive age-related diseases.

For the first time, Singh’s article, “Reversing wrinkled skin and hair loss in mice by restoring mitochondrial function,” reports that his team observed that mitochondria are reversible regulators of loss of hair and skin aging. The article was co-authored by Bhupendra Singh, Trenton Schoeb and Prachi Bajpai, all with the UAB Department of Genetics, and Andrzej Slominski with the UAB Department of Dermatology.

Basically, the Singh’s team was able to disrupt normal mitochondrial function in a mouse model, and they observed the mice quickly age before their eyes, experiencing visible loss of hair and developing wrinkled skin. It happened in a matter of just four weeks.

The ‘eureka’ moment happened when they restored the mitochondrial function. All the visible effects of aging that they observed in the mice went back to normal. Their experiment sped up the aging process and then showed that the aging process could be reversed.

They effectively turned back time for those mice!

“To our knowledge, this observation is unprecedented,” said Singh, a professor of genetics in the UAB School of Medicine in a story published on the University of Alabama at Birmingham website titled, “Scientists reverse aging-associated hair loss and skin wrinkles in a mouse model.” “This mouse model should provide an unprecedented opportunity for the development of preventive and therapeutic drug development strategies to augment the mitochondrial functions for the treatment of aging-associated skin and hair pathology.”

How did researchers turn off the normal mitochondrial function? They added the antibiotic doxycycline to the mouse model’s food or drinking water. This caused the enzyme to replicate the mitochondrial DNA to become inactive, which depleted the mouse model’s mitochondrial DNA. The mice quickly showed gray hair, thinning hair and hair loss.

Of course, results achieved with mouse test subjects are notoriously different than what happens when human test subjects are involved. The New York Times published a good story pointing to these failings titled, “Mice Fall Short as Test Subjects for Some of Humans’ Deadly Ills.” Here is the part that matters:

”…researchers report evidence that the mouse model has been totally misleading for at least three major killers — sepsis, burns and trauma. As a result, years and billions of dollars have been wasted following false leads….”

We can’t count the number of blockbuster discoveries that have cured mouse test subjects of all sorts of ailments only to fall far short when administered to humans.

Along those lines, we couldn’t help but laugh when we saw the headline of Ruth Schuster’s article on this topic in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, “Finally, Scientists Bring Hope to Mice Embarrassed by Baldness.” As that headline suggests, it’s possible that this discovery only applies to mice, in which case it’s not much of a discovery at all.

For their part, Dr. Singh’s team acknowledges that far more is unknown than is known at this point. They are encouraging additional studies and are particularly interested in seeing whether reversing age-related mitochondrial dysfunction could rejuvenate other organs – beyond hair and skin.

We at Arocha Hair Restoration want to acknowledge the organizations that provided financial support for this research, including the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs.