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Study finds possible hair loss cure for alopecia areata

A drug already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could restore hair growth in patients who suffer from alopecia areata. In the preliminary findings, the study found that patients suffering from alopecia areata had their hair fully restored within 4 to 5 months.

Hair loss specialist Dr Martin Wade, a Dermatologist at The London Skin and Hair Clinic says that “Alopecia areata is an auto-immune inflammatory condition where the bodies own white blood cells attack the hair follicles causing the hair to fall out. This can occur on the scalp and can affect other hair on the body as well. It can occur at any age, in men and women. The condition is unpredictable with patches developing, regrowth occurring and then patches developing again in the future.”

Dr Martin Wade advises that “treatment options to date have included topical steroids, steroid injections, DCP topical immunotherapy for the scalp, oral immunosuppressant treatment and newer experimental treatments such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP). Treatment results for alopecia areata currently are variable, not all patients respond to them, and even after successful treatment the condition can re-occur”.

The study led by a team from Columbia University Medical Center found that a drug used for treatment of a rare bone marrow disease, ruxolitinib, could offer hope for patients who suffer from alopecia areata.

Four years ago the research team conducted a study of more than 1000 patients with alopecia areata. The findings of that study showed that hair follicles send a signal to immune cells encouraging these cells to attack the follicles. By studying mice, researchers identified a set of T cells responsible for attacking hair follicles, and the pathways through which these T cells launch their attacks.

Researchers claim that these pathways can be targeted by drugs known as JAK inhibitors. Two JAK inhibitor drugs already approved by the FDA include ruxolitinib (used for treating a rare bone marrow disease) and tofacitinib (used for treating rheumatoid arthritis). Both drugs were tested on mice with alopecia areata. The researchers found that hair was fully restored on the mice within 12 weeks, with regrowth lasting for months after treatment ended.

In the newest study, ruxolitinib has been tested on a small group of patients with moderate to severe alopecia areata. Three of the participants have had hair fully restored within 4-5 months of treatment. The full study details can be read in the August edition of Nature Medicine.

When asked if the treatment was available yet in the UK, Dr Martin Wade said that “Ruxolitinib taken as a tablet twice daily would curently cost around £3600 per month in the UK, so there will need to be large scale clinical trials to prove the treatment and then the price would need to come down dramatically to make it a feasible treatment option”.

In July of this year a separate research team from Yale University reported in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology that they had successfully restored hair of a 25 year old man using the JAK inhibitor drug tofacitinib.

“This an exciting new development in the field of treatment for alopecia areata.  These are very early findings on only a small number of patients but the results so far are promising”, said Dr Martin Wade.

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