Bald men may be a few shaves closer to their dreams of having full heads of hair, new preclinical research suggests. Harnessing the side effects of an old drug from the 1980s meant to keep transplant recipients from rejecting their organs, scientists have identified a key ingredient that may stimulate hair growth. Unfortunately, follicly-challenged men have been promised this many times before and, as these findings are so far confined to the laboratory, it’s nothing to get excited about.
Even the researchers are aware of the limited implications. “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,” said coauthor on the study Nathan Hawkshaw of the University of Manchester, in a statement. “It could one day make a real difference to people who suffer from hair loss.”
At the same time, the findings are exciting from a basic science standpoint. There are very few drugs that are known to cause excessive hair growth and the immunosuppressive drug Cyclosporine A (CsA) is one of them, studies show. Typically used to prevent organ rejection, CsA prevents baldness by limiting production of the protein SFRP1 and prolonging the growth stage of hair follicles, according to prior research. The problem is that, as a heavy immunosuppressant drug, the side effects of CsA are far too severe for it to be considered as a cosmetic treatment for baldness. Besides, only rat trials have demonstrated that it causes excessive hair growth—there’s no proof it works on human hair.
The current study wasn’t exactly conducted on humans, but hair follicles from 40 men. After the hair follicles were tested with various drug components and CsA, Hawkshaw and his team found that another protein inhibitor called WAY-316606 could prevent baldness just as well as CsA, by blocking SFRP1 without causing such serious side effects. In a word, by studying how human hair follicles reacted to CsA, they were able to find a less toxic candidate drug that may be able to prevent or cure baldness.
Still, it’s important to note that WAY-316606 cannot be demonstrated safe or effective without proper clinical trials, and early studies such as these almost always fail in later stages. Still, Hawkshaw hopes his data will help to better-direct future experiments—a far more realistic goal than a cure for baldness.
Until then, these findings won’t do anything for bald men that The Rock hasn’t already accomplished.