South Korean scientists have developed a biochemical substance that instigates new hair follicle growth, opening new doors in the realm of hair loss treatments, which have been limited to slowing hair loss or accelerating growth, rather than regeneration, experts said.
The Korean Ministry of Science and ICT said Monday that a team of researchers led by Yonsei University's professor Choi Kang-yell has developed a potential drug candidate targeting a protein that prohibits new hair follicle growth.
The research was funded by the Science Ministry as part of its basic science research support programme.
Choi's team has discovered a protein called CXXC-type zinc finger protein 5 that binds to the Dishevelled protein. The binding protein interrupts the Wnt signaling pathway that instigates hair follicle development and regeneration in adults.
Based on this finding, the researchers have developed a biochemical substance, PTD-DBM, that prevents CXXC from binding with the Dishevelled protein. When the substance was applied on the bare skin of laboratory mice, they saw new hair follicle growth.
This study was published in a research paper titled "Targeting of CXXC5 by a Competing Peptide Stimulates Hair Re-growth and Wound-Induced Hair Neogenesis" in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology last month.
"Disrupting the CXXC5-Dishevelled interaction with a competitor peptide activated the Wnt/β-catenin pathway and accelerated hair regrowth and wound-induced hair follicle neogenesis," the paper said.
The new drug candidate in development differs from existing baldness treatments like MSD's Propecia (finasteride) designed to slow down hair loss, or drugs that speed up the growth of existing hair. Such treatments have been limited in their scope, as they cannot be used to treat cases of baldness where there are no hair follicles left.
Moreover, existing hair loss drugs are known to induce a number of common side effects, including impotence and abnormal ejaculation caused by hormonal changes as well as swelling and dizziness.
Given this, the development of a safe substance that induces follicle regeneration opens new possibilities in the development of baldness-fighting drugs, the Seoul-based research team said.
"This newly developed substance is a first-in-class drug candidate. It is expected to become a treatment for not only hair loss and baldness but also for regenerating damaged skin tissue," said Choi who led the research.
Taking the next step, the team is now conducting laboratory animal tests to discern whether PTD-DBM possesses toxic characteristics, it said.
Hair loss affects millions of men and women around the world, yet a cure has not been developed despite decades of research. Current hair loss treatments only manage hair loss symptoms, rather than providing a permanent solution.
There are only two drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treating hair loss: minoxidil, sold by Pfizer under the name Rogaine, and finasteride, which is sold by MSD under the name Propecia.