Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a protein responsible for the stimulation of blood vessels formation; it is active during embryogenesis to induce vasculogenesis (formation of new vessels), and after birth, when it becomes the primary compound that stimulates angiogenesis (formation of new vessels from pre-existing vessels).
While VEGF is implicated in the pathogenesis of numerous diseases, the connection between VEGF and hair growth in alopecia areata (AA) was only recently established.
As you may know, hair growth requires nutrients and oxygenation of the stem cells (dermal papilla); these substrates reach the stem cells via blood vessels, so it would make sense that the protein responsible for blood vessel growth can induce hair growth, especially if it was used as a topical gel.
In this article, we will analyze the available data and clinical studies about the connection between VEGF and hair growth.
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Research and Results
Both analyses showed a significant increase in the rate and diameter of hair growth in hamsters who received VEGF compared to the control group
In a 2013-study published by BMC dermatology, three groups of Mesocricetus auratus (golden hamsters) with alopecia areata were treated with different gel forms of Aristoflex®.
The first group (6 hamsters) received Aristoflex® with no added VEGF, the second group (6 hamsters) received the same gel with 1% VEGF added, and the final group (6 hamsters) also received the same gel but with 3% VEGF added.
After 15 days of topical use of the gel, macroscopic inspection using hair density dermatoscopy analysis, and microscopic inspection using hair diameter analysis were obtained.
Both analyses showed a significant increase in the rate and diameter of hair growth in hamsters who received VEGF compared to the control group.
The study concluded that “The treatment of alopecia using growth factors shows interesting activity in promoting hair growth. On the other hand, more toxicological studies are necessary to confirm their safety.” (BMC Dermatology)
Another study found that the topical use of a Janus kinase 3 (JAK3) inhibitor called Tofacitinib, showed noticeable hair growth in mice; this is believed to be a result of VEGF induction.
The study ended with the following statement:
Topical Tofacitinib is effective in promoting hair growth, and the possible mechanism involves increased VEGF levels and lowered inflammation. This study will help develop a new therapeutic option for non-scarring alopecia.
How it works
The exact physiologic and biochemical mechanisms that VEGF uses to promote hair growth are not completely understood; however, it is believed to be the result of enhanced blood perfusion of stem cells, which is crucial for hair follicle growth and cycling.
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The studies conducted about VEGF and hair growth are relatively recent, and more data is necessary before commercializing VEGF-rich gels.
This is not only because of the insufficient clinical studies about the actual benefits provided by VEGF but also because of its unclear potential toxicity.
Moreover, all the studies discussed above were done on hamsters and mice inside the laboratory, and no human clinical trials were conducted so far.
Nevertheless, the potential benefits of VEGF in treating alopecia areata grant the need for more clinical trials and studies that could change the way we see and treat AA.