Drug shows promise for some baldness

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The first thing Brian H. no­ticed was that he could grow a real beard. It had been years since that had been pos­si­ble, years he spent be­dev­iled by hair loss on his head, face, arms and legs.

Brian, 34, who asked that his last name be with­held to pro­tect his pri­vacy, suf­fers from alope­cia areata, an au­to­im­mune dis­ease af­flict­ing about 1 per­cent of men and women, caus­ing hair to fall out, of­ten all over the body. He be­lieves that the “mangy patches” of bald­ness that have plagued him since his 20s have cost him jobs and re­la­tion­ships.

After try­ing var­i­ous treat­ments, Brian en­rolled this year in a study at Co­lum­bia Univer­sity Med­i­cal Center test­ing whether a drug ap­proved for a bone mar­row dis­or­der could help peo­ple with alope­cia. One of the study’s lead­ers, An­gela Chris­tiano, is a der­ma­tol­ogy pro­fes­sor and ge­net­i­cist who her­self has alope­cia areata.

After suc­cess­fully test­ing on mice two drugs from a new class of med­i­cines called JAK in­hib­i­tors, which sup­press im­mune sys­tem ac­tiv­ity by block­ing cer­tain en­zymes, the re­search­ers be­gan test­ing one of the drugs, rux­oli­tinib, on seven women and five men. Some of their find­ings were pub­lished Sun­day in the jour­nal Na­ture Med­i­cine.

The re­sults for Brian and sev­eral other par­tic­i­pants have been sig­nifi­cant.

“Pretty quickly, there were sort of fringes,” Brian said. Then “three or four large ar­eas started to show hair growth,” and by five months, he had plenty of hair on his head, arms, and even his back. “I was blown away,” he said.

The dis­ease dif­fers from other types of hair loss, in­clud­ing male pat­tern bald­ness, and there is no ev­i­dence the drug will work for those con­di­tions. Ex­perts cau­tion that even for alope­cia areata, it is too early to know if the treat­ment will work for most pa­tients and if there are sig­nifi­cant side ef­fects or safety con­cerns.

The study is con­tin­u­ing, but so far a few par­tic­i­pants did not re­grow hair, said Julian Mac­kay-Wig­gan, an au­thor of the study.

Columbia University


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