Baldness could be tackled with an experimental drug that was first developed to tackle a condition that weakens the bones after promising signs that it can cause follicles to sprout new hairs.
While human trials still need to be conducted with the drug that was designed to treat osteoporosis, experiments with donated hair follicles in the lab could open up a new approach for treating hair loss.
The new compound, known as WAY-316606, targets a protein which is known to halt hair growth.
The discovery, still to be tested in clinical trials, could open up a whole new approach to treating hair loss in both men and women, researchers believe.
“The fact this new agent, which had never even been considered in a hair loss context, promotes human hair growth is exciting because of its translational potential: It could one day make a real difference to people who suffer from hair loss," said lead scientist Dr Nathan Hawkshaw, from the University of Manchester.
“Clearly though, a clinical trial is required next to tell us whether this drug or similar compounds are both effective and safe in hair loss patients.”
Currently only two drugs, minoxidil and finasteride, are available for the treatment of male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) – the classic type of receding hair-line hair loss in men.
Both have moderate side effects and often produce disappointing results. The only other option open to patients losing their hair is transplantation surgery.
Scientific detective work led the Manchester team to test the osteoporosis drug’s ability to stimulate hair growth.
It began with a search for novel agents for treating male pattern baldness, it discounted some candidates which were known to have hair growth as a side-effect because of their other harmful effects.
In tests, follicles donated by more than 40 patients undergoing hair transplant surgery were treated with the osteoporosis drug for six days. The follicles quickly went into the active “anagen” phase of hair growth, and began sprouting hair.
After two days, the measured rate of hair shaft production increased significantly in the treated follicles.
The research, published in the journal PLOS, is “clinically very relevant” since most previous similar studies have relied on cell cultures, said Dr Hawkshaw.
He added: “Interestingly, when the hair growth-promoting effects of CsA were previously studied in mice, a very different molecular mechanism of action was suggested. Had we relied on these mouse research concepts, we would have been barking up the wrong tree.”
Additional reporting by PA
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