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Anti-Baldness Drug Works on Growth Genes, Researchers Say

April 28, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Researchers for a Michigan pharmaceutical company say the anti-baldness drug minoxidil appears to stimulate the genes that make hair grow.

Minoxidil ″not only affects growing cells, but affects cells that make hair-shaft protein,″ Vincent Groppi Jr., a research with the Upjohn Co. of Kalamazoo, Mich., said Wednesday. ″Minoxidil affects gene activity that affects the growth of the (hair) shaft.″

Knowledge gained from study of minoxidil’s effects on genes could have implications for research into genetically based diseases, such as sickle-cell anemia, said Allen Buhl, also an Upjohn researcher.

Marketed by Upjohn under the trade-name Rogaine, minoxidil was originally developed for use internally to control blood pressure. The Food and Drug Administration last year approved the drug for use externally as a treatment for baldness.

Although the drug is approved for sale, scientists haven’t clearly understood why minoxidil promotes hair growth. Upjohn researchers had theorized that the drug improved the flow of blood to the hair roots, thereby stimulating growth.

However, the Upjohn research, released at the annual meeting of the Society for Investigational Dermatology, suggested the drug had a more basic effect on hair growth.

Groppi said he believes minoxidil’s effect on the genes is particularly strong. ″I can’t think of (a drug) offhand that has such a potent effect on gene expression,″ he said.

Another scientist, however, was skeptical that the Upjohn finding represented a significant advance.

″It could well be that it does affect those genes, but there are very many stimulants on the cells that control genes,″ said Robert Weinberg, biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. ″That does not set minoxidil apart.″

Although the drug may affect hair follicles, there is no reason to believe that the drug would have similar effects on other types of cells, Weinberg said.

Weinberg said the research would have been more convincing had it identified a specific gene or group of genes affected by the drug. Upjohn spokeswoman Kaye Bennett said the researchers hadn’t identified a specific gene.

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