Mark Trail Update, Hair-Pulling Relief | November 2, 2009 Issue - Vol. 87 Issue 44 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 87 Issue 44 | p. 64 | Newscripts
Issue Date: November 2, 2009

Mark Trail Update, Hair-Pulling Relief

Department: Newscripts
Keywords: Mark Trail, Trichotillomania, N-Acetylcysteine">N-Acetylcysteine
Barrels away:
Chemical waste helps nab bad guy!
Credit: © 2009 NAS King Features Syndicate
Barrels away:
Chemical waste helps nab bad guy!
Credit: © 2009 NAS King Features Syndicate

The chemical adventures of comic strip do-gooder Mark Trail were unfolding on this page a few months ago (C&EN, June 22, page 88). Now for the rest of the story.

Recall that Trail was HOT ON THE TRAIL of finding out who had illegally dumped barrels of chemical waste into a ravine at the Lost Forest nature preserve, where Trail lives. At C&EN press time Trail had figured out that the chemicals originated at the make-believe Williams Chemical Co. He had confronted the company president, the young and beautiful Miss Williams, and Newscripts stepped out on a limb to predict how the saga might end, given the modus operandi of the "Mark Trail" strip.

We proposed that Trail would win over the company president, which he did; get to the bottom of how the chemicals were dumped, which he did; and find the culprits, which he did. We also predicted that he'd end the adventure by socking a bad guy in the kisser and bringing the miscreants to justice, but it didn't turn out quite that way. And perhaps, we said, he'd get a kiss of thanks from Miss Williams—alas, we missed that one completely.

Trail did find out that the younger brother of Miss Williams had gotten involved with the wrong crowd and built up a sizable gambling debt. Mr. Williams was forced to offer his creditors a contract to dispose of the chemical waste in exchange for forgiving his debt. The hucksters took the money for the contract, but they ended up dumping the waste in the first convenient spot, which happened to be Lost Forest.

The story came to an exciting conclusion when Trail and Mr. Williams went to check out the barrels. Just as Williams was about to spill the beans about who had dumped the waste, a hit man lying in wait shot him. Trail rushed Mr. Williams to the hospital, where he recovered and cooperated with the authorities.

Then Trail, with his faithful St. Bernard, Andy, proceeded to track down the shooter, who inconveniently got lost in Lost Forest. The shooter ended up taking a potshot at Trail and Andy. The "ka-pow" of the rifle caused a few of the barrels to tumble down on top of the bad guy, so no fisticuffs were required. As for the anticipated kiss, it didn't come to pass, although one evening while having dinner Trail and Miss Williams danced.

Trail didn't waste any time moving on to a new adventure. Currently, he and his adopted son, Rusty, have gone to a "southern swamp" to do a little fishing and have gotten tangled up with a gang of alligator poachers. So it goes.

Announcement of a surprising link between high cholesterol in dogs and compulsive tail-chasing was reported here recently (C&EN, June 15, page 40). The research added to human studies that have linked high cholesterol with panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the like.

Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine are reporting that the amino acid derivative N-acetylcysteine appears to reduce the symptoms of COMPULSIVE HAIR-PULLING (Arch. Gen. Psych. 2009, 66, 756).

In this disorder, called trichotillomania, patients suffer from noticeable hair loss, a sense of tension associated with resisting a hair-pulling event, and gratification when an episode is over. Those afflicted have a significantly reduced quality of life, reduced work productivity, and impaired social functioning, the researchers say.

N-Acetylcysteine acts on glutamate, which is an amino acid and the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain, and has been showing promise as a treatment for several compulsive disorders. People treated in the Minnesota trichotillomania study showed significant improvement after nine weeks, with no apparent adverse effects. And N-acetylcysteine is cheap—cheaper than most insurance copayments, the researchers note—and it's available in health-food stores.


Steve Ritter wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to

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