A breakthrough new treatment for the rare form of baldness known as alopecia universalis — in which patients have no hair whatsoever on their entire bodies — may turn out to be useful for treating ordinary baldness and hair loss, although researchers are still not sure.
Using a drug designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis, a Connecticut dermatologist named Dr. Brett A. King helped a 25-year-old patient with zero hair on his body grow a full head of hair in eight months.
The man was afflicted with alopecia universalis, a rare form of hair loss that has no cure or long-term treatment.
The problem: The drugs are expensive… very, very expensive. According to one account, the drugs can cost up to $25,000 a year with insurance. What’s more, they are serious drugs with serious potential side effects. But all indications are, they work!
At the very least, this new treatment offers the first really hope for people who suffer from alopecia universalis. At least once a month, we get an email from patients, or parents of patients, who suffer from this type of hair loss and we have had little hope to offer them… until now.
There are several varieties of alopecia. The most common form is alopecia areata, which affects 4.5 million Americans. In this form of the disease, the hair falls out in patches. Alopecia universalis is the rarest form of the illness, and involves the loss of nearly all body hair.
It is an autoimmune disease in which the hair follicles are attacked by the body’s own immune system.
Though there’s a long way to go until King and his colleagues declare victory over baldness, he said his recent findings are promising. “It is really exciting,” Dr. King, an assistant professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine, told a local newsletter. “At the very least, this means many folks who have been told there isn’t a solution may now have a solution.”
King enrolled his patient in a new clinical trial for the drug Xeljanz, designed to cope with the autoimmune disorder rheumatoid arthritis.
King hopes to convert Xeljanz into a cream that can be used topically to cure baldness in patients. With the transition from pill to cream, the drug will have minimal side effects on the body and attack the problem right at the source.
Doctors in New York have tried the new type treatment out on three other patients… and once again, have had great success.
Doctors designed a pilot trial after identifying which immune cells were responsible for destroying hair follicles in people with the condition. Within four or five months of being put on a different autoimmune drug, ruxolitinib, all three patients experienced complete hair regrowth.
Ruxolitinib, which is sold under the named Jakafi and Jakavi, is a drug used for the treatment of intermediate or high-risk myelofibrosis, a type of bone marrow cancer It is also being investigated as a treatment of other types of cancer as well as for psoriasis and alopecia areata. Jakafi, the brand name for ruxolitinib, costs $8,753 for a month’s supply, which amounts to more than $100,000 a year,
What’s more, there is no connection between alopecia and male pattern baldness! That raises an interesting question: If ruxolitinib and tofacitinib promote hair growth in people with alopecia, could they be used to treat run-of-the mill male-pattern baldness? No one knows… although researchers are investigating just that question now.
“We’ve only just begun testing the drug in patients, but if the drug continues to be successful and safe, it will have a dramatic positive impact on the lives of people with this disease,” said Dr Raphael Clynes, from Columbia University Medical Centre in New York.
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