Some hair-raising good news about the fate of your pate
Researchers working with an osteoporosis drug stumble upon a follicle-stimulating side-effect
Human hair loss, most commonly seen as balding in men, could be remedied in future by a drug that stimulates hair growth, a new study suggests.
“We found that a drug previously designed to treat osteoporosis caused the hair follicles to grow around 2mm over six days,” said the lead researcher Dr Nathan Hawkshaw of the lab experiments he conducted.
“Also, the drug maintained more hair follicles to stay within the growth phase of the hair cycle compared to the control (without the drug). Not only this, we show that this drug effectively enhances hair shaft keratin production,” he said of the results, published on Tuesday.“Collectively this suggests that the drug could be an effective therapeutic option for treating human hair growth disorders,” said Hawkshaw, from the University of Manchester’s Centre for Dermatology Research.
This is the second drug identified by scientists that potentially promotes hair growth by suppressing a protein which inhibits the growth of hair follicles.
The first drug was CsA (Cyclosporine A), an immunosuppressive used for decades to treat autoimmune diseases and suppress transplant rejection, which had the side-effect of stimulating undesired hair growth.
The drug “removes an inbuilt and potent molecular brake on human hair growth”, Hawkshaw reported.
The testing of these two drugs was done on scalp hair follicles donated by more than 40 patients who were undergoing hair transplantation surgery.
The next step would be clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of this drug, WAY-316606, or similar compounds, by externally applying them to the scalp of people with hair loss.The side-effects of any experimental drug, such as hair growth in this case, can prove to be beneficial.
A drug used to treat the eye condition glaucoma has also shown promise in treating male-pattern baldness, by growing human hair from the scalp. It had been used as a treatment “to lengthen eyelashes”.
The anti-smoking drug Zyban, which reduces the urge to smoke, was originally developed as an antidepressant medication.
At present only two drugs are available for treating male-pattern balding (androgenetic alopecia) and both “have moderate side-effects and often produce disappointing hair growth results”, Hawkshaw said.
Sexual dysfunction, including loss of libido, is one of the side-effects of current drugs.Some men who wish to treat balding choose rather to do hair-transplant surgery, an expensive option, costing in excess of R20,000.
This requires “follicular unit extraction” below the skin under sedation and the transplantation of 2,000 to 4,000 hairs from the ring at the back of the head, according to Johannesburg practitioner Dr Catherine Davies.
“It’s your own wealth; you’re just redistributing it,” she has said, noting that people can only use their own hair or that of an identical twin.
In future she said people may be able to bank hair follicles, as they do with stem cells.
The organisation Hairloss South Africa identifies several risk factors for hair loss, some of which are unavoidable and permanent. These include hereditary hair loss from family members, stress, medications, menopause, pregnancy and chemotherapy for people with cancer.
Human hair has desirable strength and resistance to breaking, scientists from the University of California have found, and this has informed US research on developing body armour.
They noted that “hair has a strength-to-weight ratio comparable to steel and can be stretched to one and a half times its original length before breaking”.