Some patients suffering from alopecia areata, a condition which drains them from their body hair, have been shown to have their hair restored when they consumed the drug ruxolitinib. The latter is a drug which is already in use, but, for another purpose by patients with a completely different ailment (bone marrow disease). This new study, published online on the 17th of August 2014 in the journal Nature Medicine, might hold the key to the immune system disorder which is alopecia areata.
Bad hair days?
Bad hair days are, perhaps, one of the most annoying of days ever. If you have these often enough, be glad that you, at least, have the hair to go with them. Be grateful that, bad-hair day or not, you have the hair to flaunt on good days. Why, some people have hair growth problems so critical that they lose great amounts of hair daily such that empty patches are left on their head – empty patches which are left empty. Hair-loss drugs do exist to cope with this problem. They are meant to put a halt to the hair loss. However, they do not trigger hair regrowth. Fortunately, this might be about to change.
A new study hints at the possibility of using a certain drug to stimulate hair growth. This drug is already in use for patients suffering from another ailment and it is called ruxolitinib. The latter is used to treat patients with myelofibrosis which is a bone marrow disease.
The researchers behind the theory made three people struck by a condition called alopecia areata consume the ruxolitinib every day for a period of four to five months. The disorder entails hair loss as a result of a defective immune response. Their observations revealed that the people experienced hair growth during this time.
More clinical testing is required to establish the real relation between the drug and hair regrowth. However, the results that have been obtained until now are promising enough for the patients with alopecia areata to feel hopeful, since currently no such drug is available for them. If the new discovery could work out for them, the patients could grow their hair again.
Effect of an FDA-approved drug that restored hair growth in a research subject with alopecia areata – Photo credit: Julian Mackay-Wiggan
What is Alopecia Areata about?
Hair from the scalp and, at times, from other parts of the body, are lost as a result of an immune response. The cells of the immune system, which are supposed to protect the body from invading harmful pathogens, turn against some of the body’s normal cells and do away with them: they attack the hair follicles. Hair follicles are sacs in which the hair grows. When cut off, no hair is produced.
Alopecia areata in light of the results of the new study
The new study has contributed to shed light on some of the aspects of the disease which were previously only mysteries. The scientists found out that a specific set of T cells initiate an attack on the hair follicles. The possible ways these T cells absorb in the instructions to launch their attack have also been exposed in the study. By identifying the plausible signalling pathways through which this happens, the researchers might have laid their hands on the targets for potential drugs: JAK inhibitors could be made to act on these pathways to prevent the immune reaction to occur. One of these JAK inhibitors is the ruxolitinib. Another one, known as tofacitinib, might also be used. The researchers used both JAK inhibitor drugs on mice suffering from hair loss and showed that the hair was restored within twelve weeks.
Possibly, JAK inhibitors might be used on the patients suffering from the chronic illness as a means to restore lost hair.