People with the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata will be no strangers to sudden patchy hair loss, and they will also most likely have been told that inflammation is thought to be the real culprit behind their shedding.
Inflammation can be interpreted as the body’s natural response to infection and foreign organisms; it is also the body’s way of trying to heal itself after an injury (think of a stubbed toe that quickly swells). But when associated with autoimmune disorders it actually signals that something has gone wrong. In effect, the body has started attacking itself.
Turn off unwanted responses
Doctors in the US have been investigating ways to try and stop the body from producing such unwanted inflammatory responses, which are an underlying symptom involved in autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis and Chrohn’s disease.
Their research, which was published in the Nature Journal, has led them to the invention of what has been described as a kind of pacemaker – a tiny electronic device that aims to switch off inflammation when it is not helpful.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have been focusing on the vagus nerve, which is part of the parasympathetic nervous system and connects the brain with the gut, liver, heart pancreas and multiple other vital organs. Simply finding a way to switch it off, however, was not an option, as it needs to function for people to survive. Their goal was to be able to keep the good stuff (normal function), and filter out the bad (unwanted inflammation).
They found their solution – which has been tested in rats – by devising a way to stimulate the vagus nerve while simultaneously inhibiting unwanted nerve activity in a targeted manner. While it is early days yet, this kind of thinking may one day help people with Alopecia Areata to filter out the neural activity that leads to inflammation. Whilst the condition is often thought of as a hair loss condition, it is in fact another autoimmune disorder.
“We use an electrode with a kilohertz frequency that blocks unwanted nerve conduction in addition to the electrode that stimulates nerve activity,” said principal investigator Robert Butera, a professor jointly appointed in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. “We’ve arranged the two near each other, so the blocking electrode forces the stimulation from the stimulating electrode to only go in one direction.”
Treatment for Alopecia
Alopecia Areata treatment can often be effective when the condition affects the scalp only, but more severe cases can be difficult to treat and extreme forms of the disease such as Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis have an especially bleak prognosis. As a result, the medical community is currently looking at multiple new ways to treat severe Alopecia Areata, including trialling a new suite of drugs that were originally designed to treat certain cancers, among other things, named JAK inhibitors. Indeed, JAK inhibitors’ anti-inflammatory properties are already being used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Inflammation has many causes, ranging from depression to diet; likewise, Alopecia Areata has a number of suspected triggers, ranging from physical trauma to severe emotional stress. Although in cases of autoimmune hair loss the resulting bald patches appear suddenly, there are also various temporary hair loss conditions that can also be sparked by these same events. These, however, present as all-over hair thinning and do not become noticeable for around three months.
If you are concerned about sudden hair fall, bald spots or thinning hair, taking the first step and getting a professional consultation and diagnosis can help to relieve some of the anxiety these issues can cause. It can also arm you with expert information on appropriate hair loss treatments and advice about how to manage your condition.
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.