Drugs that slow down baldness can help vital organs and turn supple hard blood vessels.

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Medications that slow down baldness and stimulate hair growth can also make narrowed vessels more elastic and improve blood flow to vital organs such as the brain, according to an experimental model study published online in the American Journal Of Physiology—Heart and Circulatory Physiology in 3/2.

The arteries of young, healthy humans and other mammals stretch easily because they contain a protein called elastin. Elastin, however, is produced only during development and is slowly lost with age. In older people, the arteries become stiff when elastin is lost. Solid arteries contribute to the development of hypertension, significantly increasing the risk of sudden death, stroke, myocardial infarction and cognitive decline. Most treatment strategies in adults are aimed at reducing high blood pressure. To date, drugs that increase the deposition of elastin in mature human tissues have not been shown.

“We know that genetic diseases such as Williams-Behren syndrome (WS) and supra-aortic stenosis (SBAS) lead to abnormally low levels of elastin in developing arteries. As a result, children with WS or SVAS have dense, narrow arteries and high blood pressure. As in older people, the risk of sudden death and stroke also increases,” says study co-author Michael “Mish” Shoichet, MD.

“We hypothesized that in WS or SVAS, narrow arteries without sufficient elastin reduce blood flow to vital organs.Consequently, treatment strategies such as in adults that simply reduce hypertension may be less desirable in children with WS or SVAS, as they further impair organ perfusion.

Shoikhet and his colleagues Beth A.Kozel, M.D., Ph.D., co-developed the study and co-led the experiment at the University of Washington School of Medicine (WUSM). The research group’s manuscript was finalized and published after Shoikhet participated in the National Children’s Health System.

Minoxidil is perhaps best known for its ability to improve hair growth when applied to the skin. In another formulation, minoxidil is sometimes prescribed orally for high blood pressure, which cannot be treated with other medications. Previous studies have shown that minoxidil can increase elastin deposition even in mature tissues.

The research team worked on experimental models of hypertension and chronic vascular rigidity associated with WS and SVAS. They used ultrasound imaging and magnetic resonance imaging to measure the effects of minoxidil on vascular mechanics, carotid and cerebral blood flow, as well as gene expression.

The treatment group participating in the study received minoxidil at a dose of 3 mg per kg daily with drinking water from the moment of weaning until the age of 20 months. The second treatment group also received minoxidil for three months, but the results were analyzed 4 months after birth, one month after discontinuation of the drug. In the gene expression experiment, minoxidil was administered for 2 weeks in a preclinical model.

“Minoxidil not only lowered blood pressure, but also increased the diameter of the arteries and restored blood flow in the carotid artery and brain. Minoxidil also reduced the functional stiffness of the arteries and increased the elastin content in the arteries,” says Dr. Shoikhet. “It is equally important that these favorable changes persisted for several weeks after the drug entered the bloodstream. Sustained improvement and increased expression of the elastin gene suggest that minoxidil treatment may help in the remodeling of solid arteries. Such remodeling can benefit people suffering from old age or genetic diseases due to a lack of elastin.”

The research team notes that additional clinical studies are needed to confirm changes in blood flow to human end organs and to assess differences in blood flow in other major vascular beds affected by elastin dysfunction, such as the heart, kidneys, lungs and intestines.

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