It appears a leukemia drug recently approved by the FDA is working well for thousands of patients, and it turns out it has a surprising side effect in some of those folks -- turning gray hair back to its original color.
Thelma Fark is 64 years-old. Three years ago, she took Gleevec to fight cancer, and since then, her leukemia has gone into remission. Gleevec was approved by the FDA in 2001. Among the side effects: weight gain, puffiness around the eyes, and occasional aches in her joints.
But surprisingly, something else is showing up more and more. For people like Thelma, Gleevec seems to be changing the color of her hair.
"My hair has always been kind of a medium brown with a little bit of an auburn cast to it, but now, it's darker," says Fark.
French researchers have been studying this, and they say that out of the 133 patients taking Gleevec, in one of their studies, nine people regained their natural hair color, even losing some grey -- within an average of five months of treatment.
Researchers believe Gleevec might block proteins that prevent pigmentation, allowing the color to reappear. It doesn't work for everybody, only about 10% of Gleevec patients report a change in hair color, so it wouldn't be worth the prescription just to gamble away the grey.
Gleevec is a powerful cancer fighter that can affect liver and blood toxicity. But if researchers can figure out why this drug can change hair color, they may be able to make a safer drug to eliminate gray hair someday just by taking a pill.