Photographed by Erin Yamagata
The erectile dysfunction drug Viagra was originally intended as blood pressure medication. Our dear, dear friend Botox? First targeted as a prospective treatment for crossed eyes. And now, scientists at the University of Manchester’s Centre for Dermatology Research might have cracked open another game changer that could help tackle hair loss — all by looking at a drug that’s been used since the ‘80s to curb transplant rejection and autoimmune diseases.
According to a paper published yesterday in the journal PLOS Biology, researchers noticed that among the severe side effects caused by the drug Clyclosporine A (CsA) is the stimulation of hair growth on parts of the body where people typically don’t want more. But what if that side effect could be tapped to stoke hair growth on the head, effectively helping the 40% of women and roughly 66% of men who experience appreciable hair loss by the age of 35, according to the American Hair Loss Association? Even better, what if the findings prove more effective than the scant two drugs on the market for male-pattern baldness (aka androgenetic alopecia) and were less painful than hair transplant surgery?
These questions were too promising not to pursue. So University of Manchester scientists set out to ID how the mechanisms of Clyclosporine A work on a molecular level. They collaborated with a hair transplant surgeon to conduct experiments with scalp hair follicles that had been donated by more than 40 patients and found that using the drug to treat these isolated follicles on the scalp reduced the expression of a protein that inhibits hair follicle growth.
“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,” said lead researcher Dr Nathan Hawkshaw, via a statement from the university.
Because Clyclosporine A contains other side effects that prospective patients may see as deal breakers, the researchers took the idea one step further by discovering a compound (called WAY-316606, something originally developed to treat osteoporosis) that targets the same mechanism. After treating human hair follicles with this compound, researchers found a similar bump in human hair growth as with Clyclosporine A.
While a clinical trial is still needed to determine whether this compound is an effective and safe treatment for hair loss patients, the discovery is a hopeful one that has us thinking of one more request: Should this treatment make it to market, dear Science, can you please find a way to make it cheaper than all the other options, too?