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New Treatments for Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the hair follicles, resulting in patches of hair loss, and in some cases, total baldness. The disease can affect both men and women, and can develop at any age. Hair loss typically occurs on the scalp, but can also affect facial and body hair. Patients with the disease can face significant emotional and psychological stress as a result.

Research Breakthrough at CUMC

In healthy hair, each strand alternates between a growth cycle and a resting phase. In time, the strand falls out, and the cycle begins again. In people with alopecia areata, the growth/rest cycle is interrupted, and once the strands fall out, no new hair grows in the affected area. Until recently, the underlying mechanism causing this condition was unknown, and the prospects for treatment were limited.

But in a landmark discovery, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) headed by Dr. Angela M. Christiano, PhD identified the specific immune cells and pathways responsible for attacking the hair follicle. By inhibiting the Janus kinase (JAK) family of enzymes, researchers were able to reawaken follicles stalled in the resting phase, resulting in new hair growth.

Clinical Trials Show Promise for Alopecia Areata

In subsequent clinical studies, including one headed by Dr. Christiano here at CUMC, alopecia areata patients were treated with existing medications that work by inhibiting the same JAK enzymes central to alopecia areata. The two medications, ruxolitinib, a treatment for bone marrow malignancies, and tofacitinib, a rheumatoid arthritis medicine, have been proven safe and with limited side effects, and have already received FDA approval.

FDA-Approved Drug Restores Hair in Patients with Alopecia Areata

In Dr. Christiano's study, seventy-five percent of patients with moderate to severe alopecia areata had significant hair regrowth when treated with ruxolitinib, with average hair regrowth among the participants at 92 percent. In three participants, the treatment completely restored hair growth within four to five months of starting treatment.

Possible Cure for Alopecia Areata

For the up to 7 million people that suffer from alopecia areata, these results are more than encouraging. Current treatments, such as surgery or corticosteroids, have limited effectiveness and carry significant risks or side effects. The results of these recent trials represent the most promising news yet for patients suffering from this frustrating disease.

Contact a ColumbiaDoctors dermatologist if you'd like to find out more about treating your hair loss, or to learn more about these exciting new developments here at CUMC.

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