Last week various media outlets reported that a new drug for hair loss could be the ‘miracle cure’ some patients have been looking for.

Hair loss can be a delicate issue for many people who experience it, so speculation about new treatments is always likely to pique interest.

But do the findings of this latest study live up to the media hype?

We got in touch with the British Association of Dermatologists to find out more, and Dr Susan Holmes kindly answered our questions on the topic.

What did the study involve?

The recent study, carried out at by a team of scientists at the University of Manchester, looked at how the drug called ciclosporin might be used as a treatment for human hair loss disorders, such as male pattern baldness.

So, considering the drug in question (ciclosporin) is generally used in the treatment of autoimmune conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and psoriasis), how did this study come about?

As Dr Holmes explains, ‘the investigators started their investigation on the basis of a longstanding observation - that ciclosporin (a drug used to suppress the immune system) causes (generally unwanted) hair growth on the body.’

‘[The scientists] treated normal human scalp hairs with ciclosporin and then analysed the RNA (ribonucleic acid) produced by the follicles through microarray analysis, to assess what proteins may be involved in the action of ciclosporin in stimulating hair growth.’

‘They found that secreted frizzled related protein 1 (SFRP1) was reduced in ciclosporin-treated hair follicles. They then investigated the action of this protein on hair follicles and found that it regulated the Wtn-signalling pathways that control the normal hair cycle. They then found that blocking the action of SFRP1 with WAY-316606 enhanced hair follicle growth.’

Finasteride and minoxidil are the two current treatments for androgenic alopecia and the science behind their efficacy is very different to that found to be working in WAY-316606. Dr Holmes says, ‘this finding is entirely new and offers the possibility that WAY-316606 may be novel treatment for some hair loss disorders.’

Will WAY-316606 become the latest hair loss treatment?

Do the findings mean that we can expect to see a new hair loss treatment for those struggling with baldness?

Not quite yet.

The findings hold some early promise, but there is still a long way to go before doctors will be prescribing this drug for hair loss.

The study findings are interesting but at present the investigation is at a very early experimental stage.’ Dr Holmes tells us. ‘The study was carried out ex-vivo (in a laboratory) on normal hair follicles removed the scalp of men undergoing a hair transplant procedure. At present, we do not know whether the proposed treatment will work in patients with hair loss or whether a suitable treatment formulation can be developed.’

Dr Holmes went on to say that: ‘a suitable topical preparation of WAY-316606 needs to be developed for human use. It then needs to be tested to see if the benefits when applied to the human scalp are the same as the effects on a hair follicle being cultured in the lab.’

As Dr Holmes explains, any articles hailing the drug as a ‘miracle cure’ should be taken with a pinch of salt:

‘At this stage [calling the drug a ‘cure’] would be an exaggeration. In the past there have been drugs that have worked in animal models but not in humans so, any talk of a ‘cure’ or ‘wonder treatment’ is premature. Further, if it worked, it would be a treatment rather than a cure.’  

Further research

Reading in the media about potential new treatments can be exciting but it is important for us to fully understand the facts before pinning our hopes on a cure. The research into WAY-316606 as a treatment for androgenic alopecia is just one area looking at hair loss treatments.

‘Hair loss is very common and can be very distressing for sufferers.’ explains Dr Holmes. ‘There are a number of different types of hair loss but we don’t have very good treatments for any of them at present.’

‘Around the world, Dr Holmes explains, ‘there is much research going on into understanding the different types of alopecia and looking for treatments, so we are always hopeful!’

The British Association of Dermatologists offers a wealth of helpful resources and support for those affected by skin conditions. Visit the Skin Support website to find out more.