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.
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.
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..
“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.”