Arthritis Drug Cures Chronic Baldness
June 26, 2014

Arthritis Drug Cures Chronic Baldness

As anyone who has been keeping track of the many recent developments in HIV and cancer studies knows, medicinal technologies have been making rapid and exciting leaps forward in the past few years. While we’re still far away from being able to completely treat some of the worst offenders, dozens of new possibilities have begun springing up on the horizon. And yes, while HIV and cancer tend to get the most attention, let’s not fail to mention some of the other, lesser-known diseases that are likewise getting kicked square in the face. Let me introduce you to alopecia universalis, an obnoxious disease that confuses one’s immune system into thinking that hair follicles are an invading foreign body. As such, the little T-cells dutifully attack them, thus preventing proper growth of hair. Until just recently, alopecia universalis was untreatable. Those suffering from it used to be consigned to a life of hairlessness.

Key words: used to.

Dr. Brett A King, assistant professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine, may have discovered the secret to combating this once-untreatable hair loss disease in the unlikeliest of places – arthritis medicine. King, who penned an article on the subject that appears in the online edition of Journal of Investigative Dermatology, first encountered his key patient after the man had been referred to him for treatment of psoriasis, but though the psoriasis was the reason for his visit, it was the alopecia universalis that caught King’s interest. He decided to treat his patient using tofacitinib, an FDA-certified drug used primarily to treat rheumatoid arthritis, building upon research done by Columbia University’s Angela Christiano, who used a similar suite of drugs to reverse the same ailment in mice.

It worked. Within two months, the patient had grown hair on his scalp and face for the first time in years, and his psoriasis showed notable improvement to boot. After a total of five months, his eyebrows, eyelashes, and armpits followed suit, with his facial and scalp hair continuing to thicken. Eight months into the treatment, and it was all back, with no notable side effects according to the patient. According to Dr. Brittany G. Craiglow, all lab tests came back normal as well. No fluctuations. No abnormalities – definitely a positive sign. In King’s report, he notes that the tofacitinib essentially plays the part of peacemaker in the war between T-cells and hair follicles. It halts the immune system’s self-destructive assault, giving the hair cells time to recover and regrow. Unfortunately, it has only proved effective against certain cases of psoriasis, but considering there are other treatments available for that, it still comes out a win. King is putting a motion through to use this initial success as foundation for testing a cream-based version of tofacitinib. This cream, if approved, could be distributed as the first explicit cure for alopecia universalis.

His paper is entitled “Killing Two Birds with One Stone: Oral Tofacitinib Reverses Alopecia Universalis in a Patient with Plaque Psoriasis,” and you can read the whole report here.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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