Alopecia Professor Trying to Cure Hair Loss with Ruxolitinib Trials

added 31st October 2014

The scientists at Columbia University Medical Centre have made considerable progress in relation to the treatment of Alopecia Areata with new research being co-authored by faculty alopecia sufferer, Professor Angela Christiano.

Professor Angela Christiano - the Alopecia Sufferer Trying to Cure Hair LossProfessor Christiano has built a successful career researching the causes and treatment of Alopecia Areata and a number of other hair loss conditions, including treating her own patchy hair loss from alopecia. Whilst she still occasionally experiences bald spots, she generally sports a full head of hair, unlike her second cousin who suffers from Alopecia Universalis which causes a total loss of hair from head to toe.

In the 1990s, Professor Christiano managed to successfully identify the gene responsible for causing a genetic hair loss condition which causes total baldness of the body and head, by collaborating with scientists in Pakistan.

Although the exact cause remains undiscovered, Alopecia Areata has long been considered an autoimmune disorder. The team at Columbia University Medical Centre’s Department of Dermatology conducted a small clinical trial of an oral JAK inhibitor tablet called Ruxolitinib (brand name, Jakafi). This drug was administered twice per day to three male study subjects, all of whom had Alopecia Areata hair loss affecting at least 30% of their scalps.

Within four to five months of starting the study, each of the three test participants had regrown a full head of hair. None appeared to experience any side effects during the trial although the longer term outlook is currently unknown.

Ruxolitinib is normally used to treat intermediate myelofibrosis, a potentially life-threatening bone marrow condition, as well as for cancer treatment and various inflammatory diseases. The known side effects in these instances include bleeding gums, bladder pain and large purple patches on the skin. Whilst drugs like Ruxolitinib may be shown to regrow hair, they also have the potential to be toxic to body tissue, so it is possible that other JAK inhibitor drugs may be more effective.

Tests are currently underway to determine whether Ruxolitinib could be a suitable treatment for Alopecia Areata, and – assuming these studies go well – it is hoped it will then be trialled for the treatment of the more severe forms, Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis. It is unlikely that Ruxolitinib could ever be used to treat hereditary conditions such as male pattern hair loss.

David Bickes, MD, Chair and Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University Medical Centre, said of the team’s work: “The timeline of moving from genetic findings to positive results in a clinical trial in only four years is astoundingly fast and speaks to this team’s ability to perform translational science of the highest calibre.”

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