Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Salk Scientists Might Cure Your Bald Spot

— A research team from San Diego’s Salk Institute and UCLA have identified a peptide that spurs hair growth in mice. It could be the next blockbuster drug. The only problem is we don’t know if it works in humans, side-effects are unknown and we don’t know if hair growth could be restricted to the top of your head.

The chance discovery occurred when Salk professor Jean Rivier and his research team were using a peptide compound to block receptors of a stress hormone. Rivier said the idea was reduce stress in the gut that causes irritable bowel syndrome.

The team conducted experiments in mice that were bred to over-express stress hormones. That breeding caused them to be quite bald. The rodents received peptide doses over five days but they showed no improvement in their digestive tracks.

“When the mice didn’t respond any better they were put back in their cages and forgotten about for three months,” said Rivier. “It was only when we went back to identify them we couldn’t find any mouse that had loss of hair.”

Curing bald mice was a eureka moment, and Jean Rivier has founded a biotech company that he hopes will develop a marketable drug. A drug that can cure baldness in middle-aged men could be the next Viagra, profit-wise. But Rivier concedes he has a long way to go for the reasons mentioned above.

He’s applied for a patent which he may receive. But then comes the long, expensive process of FDA approval requiring multiple tests for safety and effectiveness. The stress receptor Rivier has studied exists in the skin, which explains the hair growth response. But it also exists in pretty much all other parts of the body. So using the peptide will clearly have side-effects, though Rivier points out the side effects might not be so bad.

The peptide does reduce stress, after all.

River’s biotech, called Sentia Medical Sciences, needs to raise lots of money to create an FDA-approved drug, and that will be a challenge. One thing Rivier will have no trouble finding are bald men who want to be research subjects.

“We already have volunteers,” he said. “In my email I get quite a few answers from people, who have heard of this story, and offer themselves as guinea pigs.”

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.