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Could Gene Therapy Breakthrough Help Alopecia Areata?

The autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata, which causes hair loss in the form of coin-sized patches on the scalp that sometimes spread, is closely linked to allergies and the immune system. Advanced cases are notoriously difficult to treat, but news from Australia this week suggests that new developments in the field of immunology may one day benefit people with the condition.

The link between the findings of a team at the University of Queensland and Alopecia Areata is not a direct one, but with so many researchers coming back to a defective immune response as an underlying cause of the condition, the promise is irrefutably there.

In fact, the researchers – led by Associate Professor Ray Steptoe at the university’s Diamantina Institute – think they may one day be able to turn off unwanted immune responses permanently with a single treatment.

Work to build on

Up until now, the team’s focus has been on stopping adverse reactions to allergies, but if successful it seems likely that their work would be built on.

“When someone has an allergy or asthma flare-up, the symptoms they experience results from immune cells reacting to protein in the allergen,” says Steptoe. “The challenge in asthma and allergies is that these immune cells, known as T-cells, develop a form of immune ‘memory’ and become very resistant to treatments.”

He says they have been able to ‘wipe’ the memory of these T-cells in animals using gene therapy. They have effectively “de-sensitised” the immune system so that it tolerates the protein.

“Our work used an experimental asthma allergen, but this research could be applied to treat those who have severe allergies to peanuts, bee venom, shell fish and the like,” adds Steptoe.

The ultimate goal for the Australian team would be to develop a single injection – as simple as a flu jab – that could safely be used to permanently prevent allergies.

Whether or not the work will lead to new developments in Alopecia Areata research remains to be seen, but it already appears to dovetail with the work of several other teams around the world. Scientists in Nice, for example, are looking into the possibility of using low doses of the interleukin IL2 as a treatment option; interleukins are a group of cytokines in the blood that play a part in the body’s immune response.

Way back in 2010 scientists at the Columbia University Medical Centre established a link between eight specific genes and Alopecia Areata – the same genes were connected to other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. It’s little coincidence, perhaps, that in the intervening years the same university team has been behind some of the most pioneering work into the use of well-known rheumatoid arthritis drug tofacitinib as a potential new treatment for people with extreme autoimune hair loss from Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis. They have also patented two JAK inhibitor treatments in the US for moderate to extreme Alopecia Areata conditions: Baricitinib and Decernotinib which are currently in the later stages of clinical testing.

Effective treatments for Alopecia Areata

There are currently effective home-use Alopecia Areata treatment options that can be offered through Belgravia’s hair loss clinic pharmacies, though these can only be used when the condition is in its scalp-only patchy hair loss iteration. There are currently no effective treatment options for the more severe Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis which cause baldness of the head, and the body too, respectively.

A dedicated member of Belgravia’s expert team talks each client with Alopecia Areata through the condition so that they fully understand what is causing their hairloss, including the disorder’s suspected triggers and the fact that it can sometimes spontaneously recur at a later date. Additionally, they can tailor a bespoke treatment course comprising topical applications of high strength minoxidil in appropriate formulations, along with complementary products to help boost hair growth based upon the individual’s level of shedding and medical profile.

There’s little doubt that the landscape is changing in terms of treatment for Alopecia Areata and its related conditions, and while it might seem that a miracle cure is agonisingly within reach, regulations and the intricacies of the biopharmaceutical industry suggest that anyone who is losing hair because of Alopecia Areata and in need of help would be unwise to wait.


The Belgravia Centre Hair Loss Clinic - Hair Loss Specialist ConsultationThe Belgravia Centre

The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.


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