Utah Scientist Searching for Answers in Trichotillomania

Utah Scientist Searching for Answers in Trichotillomania

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Ed Yeates ReportingA renowned Utah scientist has produced a genetic defect in a mouse that mimics humans who pull out their hair. What researchers will learn from the animal models might help them discover a treatment for this bizarre disorder.

Hair drops to the floor from the head of 13-year old Jordan Ashley Drzinski (Dra-zinski). But this time, she's not pulling it out herself, as she's done for years. Instead, hairdresser Melissa Perschon is weaving a customized hairpiece into what little hair Ashley has left to help her control a disorder called Trichotillomania.

Rebecca Honing, Ashley's mother: "And so with the hair system covering her scalp, it will act as a deterrent as well as it will be a lot more difficult for her to reach up underneath and pull the hair out."

Doctors really don't have a definitive treatment for the disorder so families try anything that might work.

Ashley's head measurements, along with a lock of hair, were sent off months ago. Now the finished piece is here.

Researchers may be closer now than ever before to identifying the biological cues for Trichotillomania. At the University of Utah Dr. Mario Capecchi has produced a genetic defect in a mouse that triggers the animal to over-groom. And it not only plucks out its own fur, but the fur of its cage mate as well.

Daniel Christensen, M.D., Ph.D., U of U Institute of Neuropsychiatry: "And that led to the question to some of these patients: Do you ever feel like doing this to someone else. And I would guess about half of them replied 'Yes, I do.'"

Dr. Daniel Christensen just returned from a national meeting with other scientists where they interviewed a hundred patients, many who pluck out not only the hair on their head, but eyebrows and eyelashes as well.

Christensen: "Most describe the fulfillment in it more as a relief of tension, that they're troubled inside feeling the anxiety or tension and once they've done that, that somehow is momentarily relieved."

Ashley's family hopes this new hairpiece will provide a way to break the habit and restore self-esteem. But even more that Drs. Capecchi and Christensen's research - down the road - will lead to a more permanent solution for this strange malady.

These first ever mouse models could shed some big light not only on Trichotillomania but obsessive compulsive disorders as well. Exactly what is the human equivalent here? Are these Trichotillomania mice or obsessive, compulsive, washing mice, or both?

Christensen: "It may be what we're on to here, crosses that boundary."

If so, that genetic link could lead to future development of drugs that might treat not just one, but a whole spectrum of obsessive/compulsive behaviors

For more information on Dr. Christensen's research, call 801-587-3122.

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