Drug Reverses Gray Hair, Balding and Skin Damage in Mice

Scientists have come one step closer to creating a drug that can reverse signs of aging, including hair loss, in a study on mice.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine used an experimental compound—called D-threo-1-phenyl-2-decanoylamino-3-morpholino-1-propanol (D-PDMP)—to undo damage in mice linked to a diet high in fat and cholesterol.

The paper published in the journal Scientific Reports is based on a previous study that suggested fatty foods affect the production of fats called glycosphingolipids (GLS), which make up the skin and other cell membranes.

GLS populate both the cells on the top layer of the skin and those that control the pigment of the skin, eyes and hair. So the scientists wanted to understand whether disrupting GLSs would affect the skin and eyes.

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Researchers have used an experimental compound to reverse hair loss, hair whitening and skin inflammation in mice. Getty Images

Mice who ate a diet high in fat and cholesterol were more likely to see their hair turn from black to white and experience hair loss. The diet also appeared to cause inflammation of the skin.

In the first stage of the study, the researchers genetically modified mice to develop atherosclerosis, a condition in which fat deposits form in the arteries.

They then fed mice either a Western diet high in fat and cholesterol or untreated rat chow from the age of 12 to 20 weeks. As expected, the mice who consumed the Western diet saw their hair turn white and fall out, and develop skin lesions. And the longer the mice ate the diet, the worse their symptoms became. By week 36, three quarters of the animals had skin lesions.

But after consuming the compound from 20 to 36 weeks of age, their skin and hair returned to its previous state, the study authors said.

Read more: Why does hair turn gray? Scientists may have found a new answer

Dr. Subroto Chatterjee, co-author of the study and professor of pediatrics and medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement: "Our findings show that a Western diet causes hair loss, hair whitening and skin inflammation in mice, and we believe a similar process occurs in men who lose hair and experience hair whitening when they eat a diet high in fat and cholesterol."

Will gray hair soon be a thing of the past? Not just yet, the authors cautioned. But the research brings us a step closer to oral or topical drugs that treat hair loss and skin wounds.

Chatterjee, said: "Further research is needed, but our findings show promise for someday using the drug we developed for skin diseases, such as psoriasis, and wounds resulting from diabetes or plastic surgery."

As the study was conducted in mice, more research is needed to prove the results can be replicated in humans. For now, the take-home message, Chatterjee told Newsweek, is: "To abstain and or minimize taking diets rich in high fat and cholesterol."

This article has been updated with comment from Dr. Subroto Chatterjee​.