New Cure for Baldness Could Be Found in Existing Drug, Scientists Say

An existing drug used to treat a common bone disorder could hold the key to the cure for baldness, according to a new study.

Current treatments for hair loss are limited to two FDA-approved drugs, minoxidil and finasteride, which have mixed results. The other option is minimally invasive hair transplant surgery. In the U.S., there are around 50 million men and 30 million women affected by hair loss, which U.K.-based researchers said could be a source of "psychological distress."

In a study conducted on human hair follicles, researchers investigated a drug called Cyclosporine A (CsA), which has been prescribed to treat immune disorders and transplant rejection since the 1980s. Side effects including shaking, headaches, vomiting and swollen gums—as well as unwanted hair growth.

A worker at London’s Chelsea Flower Show examines a grass plant during preparation for the annual exhibition, on May 21, 2004. Researchers believe they have found a potential cure for baldness. REUTERS/Peter Macdiarmid

The research team, led by Dr. Nathan Hawkshaw at the University of Manchester, in the U.K., investigated whether CsA could provide some clues for treating baldness.

After treating hair with CsA, the scientists analyzed the gene expressions of isolated human scalp hair follicles. They found that CsA changed how the follicles expressed a protein called SFRP1, which stunts the development and growth of hair follicles and other tissues in the body.

The scientists were then able to identify that WAY-316606, a compound used to treat osteoporosis, has a similar effect on how SFRP1 is expressed.

The compound WAY-316606 could therefore be used to treat baldness, without patients suffering the same side effects as they would on CsA. The study was published in the journal PLOS Biology.

Dr. Hawkshaw said in a 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."

"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."

A British Association of Dermatologists spokesperson said in a statement the results were interesting.

"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.

"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."

This piece has been updated with a comment from the British Association of Dermatologists.