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Glaucoma drug could offer new approach to treat hair loss

29 October 12

A drug used worldwide to treat the eye disease glaucoma could also be adapted to treat hair loss, according to the latest research by University of Bradford scientists.

Val Randall. The research team at Bradford's Centre for Skin Sciences has shown for the first time that bimatoprost - the active ingredient in the glaucoma drug, Lumigan - stimulates growth in human scalp hair follicles. Clinical trials are already underway in the USA and Germany to see if the laboratory results can be mirrored in men and women with male pattern baldness.

Lead researcher, Professor Valerie Randall, an expert on the regulation of hair growth, explains: "Bimatoprost is known to stimulate eyelash growth and is already used clinically for this purpose. We wanted to see whether it would have the same effect on scalp hair, as the two types of hair follicle are very different. Our findings show that bimatoprost does stimulate growth in human scalp hair follicles and therefore could offer a new approach for treating hair loss disorders."

When Professor Randall and her collaborators tested bimatoprost on human  and mouse hair follicles the drug stimulated more hair growth in both cases.  Using an exciting human organ culture model system, they found living scalp follicles treated with bimatoprost grew a third more hair than control samples in just nine days.

The team were also able to identify how the drug works. Since bimatoprost boosted growth in isolated scalp hair follicles, the drug had to be working directly on the hair follicle cells. They found specific receptors which bind bimatoprost and a related natural signalling molecule, prostamide F2 alpha, within the hair follicle. When these receptors were blocked, the drug no longer had any effect.

"This is the first time this prostamide signalling system has been identified in the hair follicle," says Professor Randall. "Male pattern baldness and alopecia areata have specific causes which aren't connected to the receptors that bimatoprost works on. This means that the drug should still work in people suffering from these types of hair loss."

To ensure the drug has a good chance of working in patients as well as in the lab, the scientists needed to see if these receptors were present not only in the laboratory-grown hair follicles but in follicles taken directly from human scalp tissue.

"We tested samples of scalp tissue taken following surgery and found they had the same receptors which respond to bimatoprost," says Professor Randall. "This means that - so long as the drug can be applied in such a way that it can reach the follicle - it should stimulate hair growth in patients."

The study is published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, The FASEB Journal.

29 October 12

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