Columnist Jeff Vrabel says millions of men will get up off the couch after reading this -- and hopefully they won't strain anything.
I have good news from the world of science, which has taken a small break from debunking all the make-believe environmental theories President Bush believes in to issue a statement that should please he and his doughy, balding colleagues: Science has figured out a way to regrow hair.
Not just hair – human hair.
Hair that goes on top of the head.
That massive, sloshing sound you just heard was millions of men lumbering off the couch to find out where science is selling the means to do this, and how near that place is to doughnuts.
Dermatologists at the University of Pennsylvania made the follicular breakthrough last month, thrilling the scientific community, as well as lame humor writers who make up words like “follicular,” which sounds like a magical unicorn from Middle-Earth that can eat pain.
But first, some facts.
Regrowth is not unique in the human experience; though mammals, humans and Alberto Gonzales are incapable of true regeneration, scientists have figured out a way to regrow part of the liver. Which is all well and good, except that, in most people, the liver is located inside, where, say, if you're missing part of it, it's not heartbreakingly obvious to the barista behind the counter with whom you're clumsily trying to make eye contact in an attempt to reclaim the fragile last vestiges of your youth (update: I'm being told that missing part of your liver would result in all manner of physical problems, such as death, foot cramps and several variants on the word “leaking,” but I needed the original point for the joke, and I'm reasonably sure no one's using this column to help them with their physiology grad papers, so I'm leaving it).
Researchers writing in the May issue of the journal Nature (it's the one with Avril Lavigne on the cover) say that the hair regrew on areas of mice in which the follicles had been removed. Bruce Morgan, an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard, which in 2006 was named the No. 1 Party Dermatology Department in America by Playboy, called the research “striking. (The researchers) programmed the cells to regenerate those organs from scratch.”
So, yeah, it's great that you can regrow a liver or a pancreas or whatever, but neither of those organs result in the tangibly faded sense of vitality which come with middle age, which is, of course, one of the primary driving forces behind all manner of aberrant male behavior in most men, such as road rage, fantasy baseball and starting wars with countries that didn't attack you.
(And yes, I know I'm saying “most men” here. I'm not arguing that I'm beset by several hundred other indicators that I am marching ever closer to the icy door of death, such as pain in something called the “lumbar region,” the inability to read road signs after 7:15 p.m. and the one morning last week wherein I damaged my right shoulder while stretching for a Pop-Tart. But though it's turning all kinds of gray, as per the agreement that me, my hair and Jimmy Carter worked out last year: As long as my hair remains attached to my scalp, it can be whatever color it pleases.)
Though I'm blithely mocking this development with weirdly inappropriate Jimmy Carter references, it's hard to overstate the importance of functional hair-replacement therapy in today's culture (“Oh sure,” you're arguing out loud to your newspaper, causing the family to gaze at each other in growing discomfort, “but what about all those other hair-replacement products, the malodorous goop you wax on your gleaming scalp like fertilizer in order to catalyze a luscious new mane?” Good question. 1. You sure are wordy, and 2. Those don't work, and moreover, I have some pretty bad news regarding that Applebee's gift card that Bill Gates is supposed to send you if you forward that e-mail around).
So keep an eye out for this story in the future, particularly as we march ahead in the fields of cloning. In fact, I am reasonably sure that if male pattern baldness could be reversed with the destruction of a few embryos here and there, the debate in Congress would take about 12 seconds and be followed by a comical, “Lion King”-esque stampede to the doctor's office. I am also reasonably sure that if male pattern baldness could be reversed by slaughtering tens of thousands of orphaned, weeping baby koala bears who are all eating oversized lollipops and singing Carpenters songs, the exact same thing would happen. On the plus side, there probably wouldn't be any foot cramps.
Jeff Vrabel is a writer whose shoulder took three full days to get over The Pop-Tart Fiasco. He can be reached at www.jeffvrabel.com.