Hair Loss Treatments in the Pipeline

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Updated: 6/18 11:50 am

March 31, 2014 -- New hair loss treatments on the not-too-distant horizon may be game-changers.

“The development of new treatments, including drugs and cell-based approaches for hair loss, is at an all-time high,” says Kenneth J. Washenik, MD, PhD. He's a clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center and the medical director at Bosley Medical. “We have never had this many provocative treatments in the pipeline.”

Washenik spoke about advances in treating hair loss during March’s annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in Denver. Treatments discussed include:

Cell-Based Hair Follicle Regeneration: This treatment takes cells found around hair follicles and grows them in a lab. The cells are then re-injected into the scalp to help grow hair, Washenik says. 

In a study by his group, 60% of participants had more hair 1 year after the cell-based treatment. “It’s promising, and there are a number of groups looking at this,” he says.

Latisse: Rebooting hair follicles with cells is not the only avenue of research, Washenik says. Latisse, the drug that is FDA-approved for eyelash growth, may also help regrow hair on the scalp. 

Still, he says, there have been some hiccups along the way. “It’s proving a little more difficult to get the medication to penetrate the scalp, but studies are under way,” he says.

Combination Therapy: The true Holy Grail may come from combining a drug like Latisse with a certain type of medication commonly used to treat allergies and asthma. The medication blocks a hormone-like substance that prevents hair from growing. A treatment like this might help with hair growth.

“Using these drugs in combination is like taking your foot off-break and stepping on gas at the same time,” Washenik says. 

FDA-Approved Medications: Many medications available today treat hair loss, says Nicole E. Rogers, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.  

Options include minoxidil (Rogaine), an over-the-counter lotion that is applied to the scalp, and finasteride (Propecia), a prescription that is taken once daily as a pill. Certain hormonal treatments can also help treat hair loss.

At-Home Treatments: Low-level laser light combs and helmets do work, but the devil is in the details, Washenik says. There is not enough evidence to say which product works better. “Convenience and ease of use seem to be the two most important factors,” he says. “The ones that people like best are those where you just sit on the couch and read while wearing a helmet.”

Hair Transplants: These may be the only feasible treatment for some people. The good news: Hair transplant techniques are improving, says Michael S. Kaminer, MD, a Boston-based dermatologist. 

“The old pluggy, noticeable hair transplant is a thing of the past.” He says today they are more natural looking, as they use smaller pieces of scalp during the transplants, as opposed to large clumps.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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