Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s defenses start attacking its own hair follicles. It also suppresses or stops hair growth. This automatically results in hair fall causing baldness. The T Lymphocytes which is a component of the immune system cluster around the hair follicles causing inflammation which leads to hair loss. Alopecia areata affects more than 6.5 million people in the US.
Recent studies have revealed that a drug which has been approved by the FDA for treating bone marrow diseases can restore hair growth in patients suffering from Alopecia areata. The drug in question is ruxolitinib – could restore hair growth in these patients.
Researchers have discovered that ruxolitinib which is used to treat a very rare form bone marrow disease is effective in restoring hair growth in patients suffering with Alopecia areata in a few months.
The study is lead by Dr. Raphael Clynes and Angela M. Christiano of Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). The primary findings have been published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Dr. Clynes said, “We’ve only begun testing the drug in patients, but if the drug continues to be successful and safe, it will have a dramatic positive impact on the lives of people with this disease,”
As mentioned Alopecia areata is an auto immune disease in which the immune system attacks the hair follicles. It is still not clear what causes this condition but the latest study offers a potential treatment for the disease.
The CUMC team conducted the study four years ago and it involved 1,000 subjects with Alopecia areata. The researchers were able to unearth the process when the immune cells go awry and start attacking the hair follicles. The hair follicles actually send a signal to the immune cell which then egg on the immune cells to attack the hair follicles. Researchers studied the progression of the disease in mice and found that a certain set of T cells are responsible for attacking hair follicles. Further researcher unraveled the immune pathways through which these T cells launch their attack. These pathways are inhibited by a certain class of drugs known as JAK inhibitors.
Two JAK inhibitors which were already approved by FDA were tested on mice with alopecia areata- ruxolitinib approved for the treatment of myelofibrosis and tofacitinib approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. The results were very heartening and the drugs fully restored the rodent’s hair within 12 weeks. The hair re-growth did not stop even months after the treatment was stopped.