(CBS) – Researchers have found a potential new treatment for hair loss using a drug originally intended for osteoporosis. But there are still many hurdles to clear before it’s an option for patients hoping to fight balding.

Currently, there are only two FDA-approved drugs on the market for treatment of androgenetic alopecia, or pattern balding: minoxidil (for men and women) and finasteride (for men only). However, both treatments can have side effects and often lead to disappointing results. The only other medical option is to get hair transplantation surgery.

To try to develop new strategies to promote human hair growth, researchers from the University of Manchester’s Center for Dermatology Research conducted lab tests with samples containing scalp hair follicles from more than 40 male hair-transplant patients. The results were published in the journal PLOS Biology.

At first, the researchers looked at an old immunosuppressive drug called Cyclosporine A (CsA), which has been used since the 1980’s to suppress transplant rejection and autoimmune diseases. The drug, however, typically comes with severe side effects, with the least serious being enhancing unwanted hair growth.

The researchers found that CsA reduced the activity of a protein called SFRP1, a key protein that regulates the growth of many tissues, including hair follicles. But because of its side effects, CsA was not a viable treatment for balding.

Next, the researchers looked for another agent that targeted SFRP1 and found that a drug originally developed to treat osteoporosis called WAY-316606 does so in the same way as CsA. When the researchers treated hair follicles with this drug, they found it also effectively enhanced human hair growth in the same manner as CsA, but without the side effects.

Study author Nathan Hawkshaw, PhD, told the BBC that the treatment could “make a real difference to people who suffer from hair loss.”

“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 a statement.

However, he cautions that the treatment needs to be studied further before it could be ready for use by men or women in search of a fuller head of hair.

“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,” Hawkshaw said.

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