Mon 18 Aug 2014
Two months ago, news broke that tofacitinib citrate – a rheumatoid arthritis drug – regrew a full head of hair in a patient suffering from alopecia areata. Now, it appears as if alopecia areata sufferers have more cause for celebration: Earlier today, Columbia University Medical Center announced that ruxolitinib, a drug used to treat a bone marrow disorder called myelofibrosis, restored hair in patients suffering from alopecia areata.
Alopecia areata differs from traditional androgenic alopecia, or male pattern hair loss, in several important ways: first, it is defined as an “autoimmune alopecia” – meaning it occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and damages hair follicles; second, it can progress and cause hair loss in regions of the face and body (this is commonly known as alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis); and third, it was, until very recently, extremely difficult to treat and caused disfiguring hair loss in an estimated 6.5 million in the United States alone.
One of these 6.5 million is Dr. Angela Christiano, a researcher in the dermatology department at Columbia University. Dr. Christiano’s team spent years determining the specific cause and underlying pathway behind alopecia areata, and came to the following conclusions: alopecia areata is caused by immune cells in two specific pathways; and both pathways could be blocked by a class of drugs known as JAK inhibitors.