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New Approach to Stimulating Hair Growth

November 30, 1998|THOMAS H. MAUGH II

More than 30 million males in the United States are balding or bald, a figure that explains the great success of the hair restorers Rogaine and Propecia.

Many men find those drugs unsatisfactory, however. They don't work for some men, and for many others they produce only a light fuzz that is unworthy of the name "hair." Furthermore, they work only in men who have healthy hair follicles that are not currently producing hair.

But a University of Chicago researcher has stumbled across an interesting piece of biology that may eventually lead to a revolutionary cure for baldness. She has discovered a way to convert ordinary adult skin cells into new hair follicles.

She has accomplished this only in mice, and only through genetic engineering so far, but the approach could eventually lead to a much more effective way to restore lost hair.

The key is a molecule called beta-catenin, biologist Elaine Fuchs of the university's Howard Hughes Institute reported in Wednesday's issue of Cell.

"Beta-catenin can cause adult epithelial [skin] cells to revert to an embryonic-like state where they have the ability to choose to become a hair follicle," Fuchs said.

Fuchs and postdoctoral fellow Uri Gat created genetically engineered mice that produced beta-catenin, normally present only in the embryo, throughout their life span. The mice proved to be exceptionally hairy.

The trick now, she said, is to find some way to treat the skin of grown animals to cause follicle formation.

Post-1982 Pennies Cause Stomach Ulcers

Swallowing pennies minted after 1982 can be a serious risk to the health of a child or a pet, researchers from the Duke University Medical Center will report today at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

The team began its research when a 2-year-old boy with an upset stomach was brought to the medical center. X-rays revealed that the stomach contained a round object filled with holes, which the physicians assumed was a toy or battery.

When they removed the object, they discovered it was a penny that the child had swallowed four days earlier. They also discovered an ulcer where the penny had lodged.

They then tested pennies in a solution of stomach acid. Those minted before 1982, which are 95% copper and 5% zinc, showed no erosion. But those minted more recently, which are nearly all zinc with a thin copper plating, began eroding immediately. The erosion produced hydrogen gas and zinc chloride, which can damage the stomach lining to produce an ulcer.

Other U.S. coins are made of noncorrosive metals, mainly nickel, and don't produce the problem. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 21,000 children made trips to the emergency room last year after swallowing coins.

Laser Treatment Eases Kids' Ear Infections

A simple and painless ear treatment may be as effective at relieving children's chronic ear infections as the common procedure of surgically inserting tubes into the eardrum to drain excess fluid. "With more than 27 million cases of otitis media [ear infections] diagnosed each year in the United States, this technology is likely to provide a real benefit to many thousands of children," said Dr. Linda Brodsky of the State University of New York Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The technique uses a laser to punch a small hole in the ear drum. Special ear drops are used to numb the ear, and the technique is performed with the child awake and seated in a parent's lap. (Tube insertion requires general anesthesia.)

Drainage of fluid and relief from pain begin immediately after the procedure. The middle ear stays ventilated for three to four weeks, giving the underlying infection time to resolve. The tiny hole in the eardrum heals naturally and is undetectable, even under a microscope.

Research results to date show a cure rate of 70% to 75% for both chronic and acute ear infections.

New Heart Warnings Listed on Viagra Labels

New warnings about the possible heart risks of taking Viagra have been added to the drug's label, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

The new label will say patients who have a history of heart attack or severely low blood pressure, or other kinds of heart disease, should be carefully examined before getting a prescription for the drug. About 130 Americans have died from heart attacks and similar causes after taking Viagra, but there is no evidence that the drug caused the deaths.

Zoloft Safe for Children to Use, Study Shows

The depression drug Zoloft is a safe and effective treatment for children with obsessive-compulsive disorder, researchers reported in the Nov. 25 Journal of the American Medical Assn. Although the drug is widely used for adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder, known as OCD, this is the first large clinical trial in children and adolescents. OCD affects about one in 200 children, causing persistent and irrational worries that trigger repetitive behavior, such as hand-washing to alleviate the concerns.

Dr. John S. March of Duke University Medical Center and his colleagues gave the drug or placebo to 187 patients for 12 weeks. The superiority of Zoloft was seen for most patients at about the third week of treatment, with 42% on the drug "very much or much improved," compared with 26% of those on placebo.

The average patient remained mildly ill even after taking Zoloft, the researchers said, and they recommended a combination of drug therapy and psychotherapy for children with the disease.

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