Can a Drug Cure Baldness? New Study Shows Potential

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Approximately 88 million men and women experience some degree of hair loss during their lives.

Those eager to reverse a receding hairline can choose from a few solutions. Hair transplants are a costly but permanent option. Topical solutions that promote hair growth, but at inconsistent rates, are another option.

ishonest No.501 - Frizzy Hair

No.501 - Frizzy Hair

To date, scientists haven’t developed a surefire method to stop hair loss, scientifically known as androgenetic alopecia. That term alone provides clues to its illusive cure.

Hair loss is the result of both hormonal and hereditary factors. The truth is, hair loss is still a bit of a mystery, said Dr. Edidiong Kaminska. She practices dermatology in Chicago and is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology.

“There are so many molecular pathways — it’s multifactorial, it’s hereditary. There are a host of factors,” she told ishonest. “That’s why treating hair loss has been complicated and challenging.”

Uncovering a new possible treatment for hair loss

A study released in May 2018 may bring scientists one step closer to solving the hair loss puzzle. It involves a drug that’s currently used to treat osteoporosis.

For strong and hydrated hair

Learn more

One of the side effects of the drug is that it reduces the activity of a protein called SFRP1. This is key because that protein also stops follicles from growing hair.

The researchers from the University of Manchester’s Centre for Dermatology Research uncovered this finding through lab tests. They used samples containing scalp hair follicles from more than 40 male hair-transplant patients.

The hair follicles were placed in a medium and treated with the drug. Researchers said that those hair follicles were able to grow again because it suppressed the actions of SFRP1.

Kaminska said it’s exciting to see that the researchers were able to zero in on the protein that stops hair from growing at the follicle.

ishonest No.202 - Prevent Elasticity Damage

No.202 - Prevent Elasticity Damage

“This is novel because it blocked that protein, SFRP,” she said. “It’s amazing that they were able to find the specific protein.”

But Kaminska stopped short of calling the findings a cure for baldness.

For starters, she said it’s just the first study. Further, it was only conducted in the lab — not on people. There simply isn’t enough thorough research to draw serious conclusions yet about its long-term implications for hair loss.

“I can’t say it’s the magic bullet, but it’s exciting,” she said.

From treating osteoporosis to fighting hair loss

Volume and structure for your hair

Learn more

At first the researchers conducted studies using cyclosporine A, an immunosuppressant. One of its side effects is hair growth. That set of testing led them to the SFRP1 protein and the discovery that the protein blocks hair growth. But cyclosporine A has too many side effects to pursue further testing, which is why they set their sights on the osteoporosis drug.

It has few side effects. It should be noted that the scientists didn’t provide the name of the drug in their study.

“The fact that 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,” he said in his statement.

Why is it so difficult to stop hair loss?

While hair loss has likely been occurring as long as humans have been around, it’s only in the last 40 years that consumers have had access to topical treatments that encourage hair growth.

ishonest No.141 - Humectant

No.141 - Humectant

And these medical options don’t help everyone or treat every type of hair loss.

The most common treatment for hair loss — minoxidil — was introduced to the masses in 1998. The drug is often referred to as Rogaine, one of the most popular brands on the market.

Despite its popularity and widespread use, scientists aren’t actually sure how minoxidil promotes hair regrowth, but it does.

The drug, a topical treatment, was first used to treat hypertension, and hair growth was a side effect. More than 40 percent of people who use minoxidil will see their hair grow back to some degree.

Activates the microcirculation of scalp and strengthens the hair follicles to stimulate hair growth

Learn more

Another option on the market is finasteride, an oral medicatiohttps: // www.”>Propecia. Finasteride is an anti-androgen. It was first developed to treat enlarged prostates. In 1997 it was approved to treat hair loss.

Of the two choices, finasteride comes with many more side effects. It’s not approved for use by women, and it can cause birth defects if some were to become pregnant while on it. People who opt for this treatment also aren’t allowed to give blood.

As Kaminska noted, it’s too soon to tell if this new drug studied will end up being the cure for hair loss that people have been looking for. She said in order for this new theory to really take root, more research will need to be conducted.

Future studies would need to engage in multiple phases of research to figure out how the drug would best be administered and, importantly, what side effects it produces, she added.

Free your hair follicles

Learn more

“We don’t know what would happen if we put the medication on live humans,” Kaminska said.

Hawkshaw told the BBC that clinical trials would be next in line.

Kaminska also reminded ishonest that this test was only for androgen alopecia — hair loss that occurs on the scalp.

There are many types of other hair loss that can occur. Alopecia areata is when your hair falls out in spots, while alopecia universalis is total body hair loss. Both are considered to be autoimmune disorders.

ishonest No.201 - Prevent Elasticity Damage

No.201 - Prevent Elasticity Damage

If these or other types of hair loss occur, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis, she added.

“It’s important to see a certified dermatologist,” Kaminska said.

[Editor’s note: This piece was originally reported on May 22, 2018. Its current publication date reflects an update, which includes a medical review by Alan Carter, PharmD.]

Read this next

Stress, diet, and even hair treatments are among the possible reasons younger generations are noticing hair loss at an earlier age.

When the scales of the hair fiber are opened, the hair becomes tangled and matted - Repair the damage

Learn more

The condition led to the death of a 16-year-old girl in the United Kingdom. Here are some of the symptoms and treatments for trichophagia.

ishonest's picks for the best treatments for hair loss for men include Rogaine, Propecia, and more—how do they measure up?

Want to give your mane a boost? Try these products to get shiny, healthy locks.

HairMax is a company that specializes in laser light therapy to target hair loss — but do the devices actually work?

Propecia (otherwise known as generic Finasteride) is typically used to treat male pattern baldness—but does it actually work?

This hair-growth regimen claims to support healthy hair. Here's the science behind it.

Read more on: hair

Learn about unknown needs of your skin for free