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Brittle bones in some could lead to a baldness treatment for others

Researchers at the University of Manchester in England have discovered that a drug used to treat osteoporosis stimulated the growth of hair follicles in a laboratory setting. They say clinical trials will be needed to determine if its effective in treating humans for hair loss.
Researchers at the University of Manchester in England have discovered that a drug used to treat osteoporosis stimulated the growth of hair follicles in a laboratory setting. They say clinical trials will be needed to determine if its effective in treating humans for hair loss. Kansas City Star file photo

Could there be a new treatment for baldness, in men and women, on the horizon?

Could that treatment be found in an osteoporosis drug?

Researchers at the University of Manchester in England think it might because of how the drug for brittle bones caused hair follicles to grow in a laboratory setting.

"It contains a compound which targets a protein that acts as a brake on hair growth and plays a role in baldness, the BBC reported.

The drug "had a dramatic stimulatory effect on human hair follicles donated by patients," the university said in a statement reported by the ABC, Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Male-patterned hair loss has a genetic component. some hair loss can be caused by internal disease or medications. Many women will experience some degree of hair loss throughout their lives, and, unfortunately, it's often part of the aging process.

The findings, published Tuesday in the open access journal PLOS Biology, are considered a breakthrough partly because, according to CNBC, there are only two drugs available right now to treat male-pattern baldness — minoxidil, used in Rogaine, and finasteride, known as Propecia.

Researchers at the university's Centre for Dermatology first studied an immunosuppressive drug, called Cyclosporine A (CsA). The drug has been used since the 1980s to treat transplant rejections and various autoimmune diseases, CNBC reports.

They found that CsA reduced the expression of a protein called SFRP1 that inhibits the growth of many tissues, including hair follicles., making unwanted hair growth a side effect.

But because of CsA's other severe side effects — shaking, headaches, vomiting and swollen gums — it could not be used to treat hair loss, Science Daily reports.

So researchers, led by project leader Nathan Hawkshaw, looked for another solution.

They found it in a compound called WAY-316606 originally developed to treat osteoporosis. Much like CsA, it targeted the same protein that puts those brakes on hair growth.

In the lab, it caused hair follicle growth.

"The inhibitory mechanism is completely unrelated to CsA's immunosuppressive activities, making SFRP1 a new and highly promising therapeutic target for anti-hair loss strategies," writes Science Daily.

With an assist from a local hair transplant surgeon, researchers conducted their experiments on scalp hair follicles from more than 40 patients. "This makes our research clinically very relevant, as many hair research studies only use cell culture," Hawkshaw said in a statement.

It's possible, he said, that applying Way-WAY-316606 or similar compounds to balding human heads might promote hair growth like CsA is known to do, but without the bad side effects.

"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 said in his statement..

"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."

He told the BBC that a clinical trial will be needed to determine whether this drug, or similar compounds, are effective and safe for hair-loss patients.

“For individuals with hair loss, treatments can be very hit and miss, there isn’t one which is universally effective. For that reason new treatments are exciting as they give people more treatment options that may be effective," a spokesman for the British Association of Dermatologists said in a statement.

“This research has been tested on human tissue, which is promising, but not on humans themselves, so there is still some way to go.

“It is also important to realize that this is being proposed as a treatment for hair loss, not a cure as such.”

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