• U.S.

Will We Ever Cure…

4 minute read
Michael D. Lemonick


Dermatologists have long known that inactive hair follicles aren’t dead; they’re just catatonic. Drugs like Rogaine can rouse some of them to boost hairiness by a few percentage points. But true hair regrowth has so far eluded the experts.

An experiment at Cornell’s Weill Medical College, though, may hint at a real baldness cure. The key is a gene known as SHH. In embryos SHH controls brain development, but in mature animals–including humans–it governs natural on-off cycles of hair growth. And sure enough, when scientists inserted SHH into mouse hair follicles (using a common cold virus as their splicing tool), the dozing follicles woke up and performed.

Can SHH wake human cells stuck in the “off” position? Dermatologists won’t know for sure until they try; they also won’t know about side effects (SHH in big doses can trigger skin cancer, though the mice have shown no sign of it so far). But the research suggests that the new hope genetics is bringing to victims of cancer and other devastating diseases may also cover the merely bald.


The conventional wisdom says no, but by mid-century that assessment–along with the sniffles–may well be ancient history. Colds are considered incurable today because it would take months to come up with a vaccine for every new strain. That’s fine for the flu, which breeds in animals and only jumps over to humans every year or two. But colds mutate even while they’re infecting you, and new strains pop up so often that by the time drugmakers create a vaccine against one variation, the serum is already out of date.

The flu may yet point the way toward a cold cure though. Scientists at the University of Ghent, in Belgium, have found a protein called M2 that seems to be present in virtually every flu strain known to man. Using that knowledge, they have made a vaccine that they think could protect against all flus–old, new and those not yet in existence.

If a similar protein is found in cold viruses–a protein that’s present no matter what strain is involved–then it is possible that by 2025 or so, children could be getting a universal cold vaccine. And then they will have to listen to us old geezers reminisce about the days when we used to carry a small white cloth called a handkerchief.


Afraid not. Bad breath isn’t an illness; it’s merely a symptom of something else. In some cases, the something else really is an illness–diabetes, for example, or some kidney disorder or an infection of the sinuses or bronchial tubes or gums. Infections can usually be cured, and if you’re suffering from an incurable one or from another serious condition, bad breath is the least of your problems.

Another cause is foods like onions or garlic, in which case you’re out of luck: essential oils from such foods get into the blood, then into the lungs, then out with each exhaled breath. Even in the 21st century, if you want the flavor, you risk disfavor.

The most common reason for bad breath, though, is, to put it delicately, food molecules rotting in the mouth. Mouthwash masks the smell, but ultimately you have to get rid of the stuff. Brushing and flossing remove larger particles, but dentists suggest brushing the back of the tongue as well, where food residues and bacteria congregate. The microscopic bits that remain must be flushed down by drink or saliva (morning breath occurs because salivation shuts down at night). But if you’re waiting for a true cure, it won’t happen until we eat all our food in pill form. In other words, don’t hold your breath.

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