The history of medical research is rife with examples of treatments for one ailment eventually becoming more frequently used for a different ailment. Famously, Viagra was originally designed to combat high blood pressure before it became an erectile dysfunction treatment. And now a drug originally developed to treat osteoporosis is showing promise in the fight against hair loss.

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The findings were reported in a study that is now available in the medical journal PLOS Biology. Researchers initially studied Cyclosporine A (CsA), an old immuno-suppressive drug used to treat transplant rejection and autoimmune diseases. One of CsA’s effects is reducing the expression of SFRP1, a protein that inhibits the growth of many tissues, including hair follicles. CsA could thus likely be effective for promoting hair growth, but its severe side effects – shaking, headaches, vomiting and swollen gums – prevent it from being a viable treatment option.

So the researchers then turned to that osteoporosis treatment, a compound known as WAY-316606. It turned out that WAY-316606 had a similar effect on SFRP1 as CsA, so the hope now is that it could be applied to a balding scalp without any adverse side effects.

In a statement, Dr. Nathan Hankshaw said, “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.”

There are currently two drugs on the market to treat baldness – minoxidil (for men and women) and finasteride (for men only) – but both have side effects and neither is very effective.