An experimental treatment wants to harness the power of stem cells to treat baldness

AlopeciaWikimedia CommonsA person with alopecia (not a part of the trial).

A company that specialises in regrowing tissues like cartilage and parts of bone is also trying to cure baldness. Or at least help regrow some of that lost hair.

The treatment, still in the works by private biotech company Samumed, targets certain proteins that scientists think play a critical role in the development and renewal of stem cells, the type of cells that give rise to other types of specialised cells, from eye cells to skin and hair cells.

The hope is that by using the treatment, people with androgenetic alopecia, a common form of hair loss, will be able to regrow some of their lost hair follicles, the layer of cells and connective tissue that envelope the root of a hair and are critical for its growth.

A phase 2 trial presented last weekend at the American Academy of Dermatology looked at the effects of a topical treatment called SM04554 in about 300 men ages 18-55. The men were split into three groups: a placebo group, a group given a .15% dose of the treatment, and a group given a .25% dose of the treatment.

At the end of 135 days, surprisingly, those given the lower dose saw the most hair growth (they saw an increase of roughly 10%). Those on the higher dose saw an increase of about 7%. And those on the placebo, not surprisingly, continued to lose hair.

Samumed Chief Medical Officer Dr. Yusuf Yazici told Business Insider that he thinks the results make sense, given that it may be possible that the higher dose was over-stimulating cells.

“There is what we like to call the ‘Goldilocks Zone,'” he said.

Samumed saw similar results in their animal studies.

Yazici said the company is still in the midst of a second phase 2 trial, which will look more closely at how the hair and follicle are growing. Then, the company plans to get set up for their next rounds of larger, late-stage trials that will further test how well the drug works and if it’s safe.

So far, there have been no major problems related to the treatment, which Yazici attributed in part to how localised (applied to the head) the medicine is.

Beyond hair loss, Samumed is using the treatment mechanism to regenerate cartilage in patients with osteoarthritis as well as certain kinds of cancer and other degenerative diseases.

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