Hair growth restored with new drug
Alopecia areata – an autoimmune skin disease that causes patchy hair loss on the scalp, face, and body – affects as many as 6.8 million people in the United States. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center have identified a promising therapy for the disease that stimulated hair regrowth by 92 percent.
Researchers have found that JAK inhibitors may help people with alopecia areata regrow their hair.
With all forms of alopecia area, the body’s immune system attacks healthy hair follicles, which causes them to become smaller and decrease in production to the point where hair growth may stop altogether.
For people who have less than 50 percent hair loss, current treatment options work to disrupt or distract the immune attack and stimulate the hair follicle. For people who experience more than 50 percent hair loss, there are oral and injectable medications available. However, these treatments are not successful for everyone.
Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) researchers conducted an open-label clinical trial – whereby both researchers and participants knew what treatment was administered – of 12 people with alopecia areata.
The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation/Insight, were released alongside a separate study from Stanford University and Yale University that tested a similar drug.
Alopecia areata is the second most common form of hair loss that occurs at any age and affects both men and women equally.
While there is currently no treatment capable of completely restoring hair, CUMC investigators have shown that topical and oral drugs that inhibit the Janus kinase (JAK) family of enzymes, known as JAK inhibitors, could potentially fill the role of stimulating hair regrowth.
“Although our study was small, it provides crucial evidence that JAK inhibitors may constitute the first effective treatment for people with alopecia areata,” says Dr. Julian Mackay-Wiggan, associate professor of dermatology and director of the Clinical Research Unit in the Department of Dermatology at CUMC, and a dermatologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia.
“This is encouraging news for patients who are coping with the physical and emotional effects of this disfiguring autoimmune disease,” she adds.
Previous research by the team revealed specific immune cells and dominant inflammatory signaling pathways that are responsible for attacking the hair follicle in people with alopecia areata, resulting in the follicle entering a dormant state.
Later studies of mouse and human hair follicles showed that JAK inhibitors reawaken these dormant follicles by blocking inflammatory signaling.
Three quarters of participants exhibited 50 percent more hair regrowth
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have already approved two JAK inhibitors: a medication used to treat bone marrow malignancies called ruxolitinib, which was the focus of the CUMC research, and a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis called tofacitinib that the Stanford/Yale study explored.
“These disorders are both characterized by dysregulated signaling pathways, similar to alopecia areata, which is dominated by the interferon signaling pathway. Even though the diseases are very different, this common feature gave us the initial idea to test JAK inhibitors in people with alopecia,” says Dr. Raphael Clynes, Ph.D., associate professor of dermatology at CUMC.
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