Hair loss: JAK inhibitors could lead to ‘rapid and robust hair growth’ – what are they?

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Hair loss treatments must be tailored to the specific cause of a person’s hair loss if they are to yield results. This is precisely why research has not alighted on a panacea – the multitude of contributing factors requires a fine-grained response. If you suffer from alopecia areata, research has happened upon a promising new treatment pathway.

Alopecia areata is characterised by one or more coin-sized hairless patches on the scalp or other areas of the body.

It is an autoimmune response, which means the body’s own immune system attacks your healthy hair follicles, causing them to become much smaller and drastically slow down production to the point that hair growth may stop, explains the National Alopecia Area Foundation.

Researchers studying alopecia area discovered that JAK inhibitors shut off the signal that causes the autoimmune attack, and that oral forms of the drug restore hair growth in some people with the disorder.

JAK inhibitors are a family of drugs that tamp down one or more of the Janus kinase family of enzymes that trigger an overactive immune system.

However, by inhibiting the JAK family of enzymes that are located in hair follicles, they appear to restore hair growth, according to investigators from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in New York City, NY.

Tests with mouse and human hair follicles showed that applying JAK inhibitors directly to the skin promoted “rapid and robust hair growth”.

In a small clinical trial, Angela M. Christiano, Ph.D. – the Richard and Mildred Rhodebeck Professor of Dermatology and professor of genetics and development at CUMC – reported that treating moderate to severe alopecia areata with ruxolitinib triggered an average hair regrowth of 92 percent.

Professor Christiano and team plan to expand their studies to include testing JAK inhibitors in other conditions and pattern baldness.

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“We expect JAK inhibitors to have widespread utility across many forms of hair loss based on their mechanism of action in both the hair follicle and immune cells,” she added.

Tofacitinib and ruloxitinib are two JAK inhibitors that have shown promise in treating alopecia areata.

According to the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), treatments are not yet available as further studies are needed to confirm their beneficial effects for alopecia areata.

“Furthermore, topical formulations of these medicines are also being studied for their effectiveness in treating alopecia areata,” adds the health body.

Current solutions

According to the NHS, finasteride and minoxidil are the main treatments for male pattern baldness.

Male pattern baldness is a permanent type of hair loss that usually runs in the family.

Some wigs are available on the NHS, but you may have to pay unless you qualify for financial help.

Other treatments include:

  • Steroid injection – injections given into bald patches
  • Steroid creams – cream applied to bald patches
  • Immunotherapy – chemical applied to bald patches
  • Light treatment – shining ultraviolet light on bald patches
  • Tattooing – tattoo used to look like short hair and eyebrows
  • Hair transplant – hair cells are moved to thinning patches
  • Scalp reduction surgery – sections of scalp with hair are stretched and stitched together
  • Artificial hair transplant – surgery to implant artificial hairs.

Support

Losing hair can be upsetting – for many people, hair is an important part of who they are.

“If your hair loss is causing you distress, your GP may be able to help you get some counselling,” advises the NHS.

It adds: “You may also benefit from joining a support group, or speaking to other people in the same situation on online forums.”

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