Michael Jackson was the most recognised sufferer of lupus but about five million people world-wide are affected by the condition. Among other things, lupus can cause rashes, extreme fatigue, muscle aches, hair loss and could lead to the destruction of vital organs. There is no single test to determine if a person has lupus and there is no cure, rather consideration of symptoms is the only way to achieve diagnosis and treatment aims to reduce inflammation and alleviate those symptoms. However, according to Human Genome Sciences Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc, their experimental lupus drug reduced patients’ symptoms in a yearlong study, which could raise hope of the first new therapy in more than 50 years for the disease.
“The lupus community has really been on tenterhooks waiting for a positive announcement,” Sandra Raymond, chief executive of the Lupus Foundation of America said. “Since lupus was first discovered over a century ago, there has never been a drug specifically developed for lupus.”
Medications often are prescribed to lupus patients but which ones will depend on what organs are involved and the severity of their involvement. They range from mild anti-inflammatory medications to potent steroids but as for the treatment of hair loss, bald patches or even total baldness – possible symptoms of lupus – hair replacement systems are the only way to mask this particular effect.
Indeed, Michael Jackson’s dermatologist Dr. Arnie Klein confirmed that the Man in the Mirror singer was virtually bald at the top front of his head, following plenty of speculation that Jackson was wearing a wig when he died. Dr. Klein also revealed in a recent CNN interview that he knew when Michael first walked into his office in 1986 that he had lupus erythematosus. Although only about 30% of sufferers broadcast the butterfly shape rash across the nose and cheeks, it was a tell-tale sign that Michael had.
There are three different types of lupus – discoid (cutaneous), systemic and drug-induced lupus. Discoid lupus affects the skin, systemic lupus affects multiple systems in the body and the drug-induced lupus may occur after taking certain prescriptive medications. Common symptoms of lupus include scaling, scarring or itchy rash, mouth ulcers, easy bruising, headache, cold hands and feet, dry mouth, chest pain, weight gain or loss, nausea, confusion and memory problems. Seal is another famous lupus sufferer whose condition left him with facial scars and hair loss.
Unlike hereditary hair loss, telogen effluvium or even alopecia areata, hair loss as a result of lupus cannot be reversed. The loss is usually a result of scarring of the hair follicles due to inflammation and FDA-approved hair loss treatments will not be able to produce re-growth from dead follicles. Hair transplants usually aren’t recommended either as the rest of the scalp is also susceptible and hair may fall out after the surgery.
After a history of failures for treatments of lupus, and following disappointing data in earlier clinical trials, analysts were surprised by the positive results of the recent study. Lupus has been a challenging illness for researchers because patients’ symptoms vary, the illness effects different organs in the body, and symptoms tend to come and go. But the 865-patient study found the Benlysta drug was more effective at easing pain, hair loss and skin rash than a placebo.
Study participants received one of two doses of the drug or a placebo. At the lower dose, 51.7% of patients showed improved symptoms compared with 43.6% who took the placebo and at a higher dose, 57.6% had improved symptoms compared with 43.6% on a placebo.
There is hope that these results could spell a breakthrough in the management of lupus. Human Genome is conducting a separate 76-week trial of Benlysta, the results of which are expected in November, and both studies will be conducted under a “special protocol assessment” from the FDA. Only three drugs are currently FDA-approved for the treatment of lupus – prednisone, aspirin and hydroxychloroquine – but if the scientific goals are met, Benlysta may prove to be the most effective licensed treatment for lupus.