Potential cure for baldness discovered by scientists

While celebrities such as Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson embrace their signature hair-free looks, not even Prince William can escape the hairy problem of going bald. But researchers claim hair loss patients may soon be able to restore their luscious locks without any side-effects, thanks to a new osteoporosis drug.

A study from the University of Manchester’s Centre for Dermatology Research has discovered that a compound designed to treat osteoporosis, WAY-316606, has a “dramatic stimulatory effect on human hair follicles donated by patients”.

The drug was proven to target the same causes of hair loss as existing treatments by targeting a protein called SFRP1, which inhibits the growth of hair follicles and other tissues.

Dr Nathan Hawkshaw steered the PhD project, aiming to create new ways to stimulate hair growth and find unique well-tolerated agents to treat male-pattern balding. He believes the external application of WAY-316606 or similar compounds may actually promote hair growth in men and women to the same extent as CsA or better without and without side-effects.

“The fact that this new agent, which had never 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,” the lead researcher said in a statement.

More than 40 patients receiving hair transplant surgery took the osteoporosis drug for six days. It was found that follicles quickly started to show promising results of growth. Two days later, the rate of hair shaft production in the follicles increased significantly.

But the biggest issue for the researchers is seeing whether the process of hair growth continues, or whether the drug will cut it short.

The researchers originally tested Cyclosporine A (CsA), an immunosuppressive drug traditionally used to suppress transplant rejection and treat autoimmune diseases. It is only one of a small number of drugs claimed to cause significant hair growth in men and women. But with mice often the preferred lab rats for scientists studying the potential effects of CsA in human patients, Dr Hawkshaw says some research may not have been as helpful as they hoped.

“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,” he explained.

The team eventually brushed off the drug as ineffective as the side-effects were too severe, including increased cosmetically undesired hair growth in some patients.

“Thanks to our collaboration with a local hair transplant surgeon, Dr Asim Shahmalak, we were able to conduct our experiments with scalp hair follicles that had generously been donated by over 40 patients and were then tested in organ cultures,” Dr Hawkshaw said.

“This makes our research clinically very relevant, as many hair research studies only use cell culture.”

What hair loss treatments are currently available?

Hair loss is a common issue for many people. And the impact of hair loss on mental health is one of the biggest factors motivating the research team to find safe ways to create growth-promoting agents.

There are currently two drug treatment options for balding in men and women. But these have been claimed to cause moderate side-effects. For men, there is medication known as minoxidil, which is said to help reverse male-pattern baldness and encourage hair growth in men suffering from hereditary hair loss.

Finasteride, otherwise known as Propecia, is similarly available for women struggling with hair loss. But there are claims women who use the drug risk suffering various side-effects as the treatment is said to be originally created for men. Some effects have been claimed to include hormonal changes and allergic reactions.

Dr Hawkshaw said the next step will be to conduct clinical trials and turn research into real results.

“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,” he said.

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