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Columbia University Professor Cures Own Hair Loss?


Tremendous progress has been made in the treatment of Alopecia Areata by scientists at Columbia University Medical Centre.

Professor Angela Christiano - Alopecia Researcher at Columbia University USANew research, published in Nature Medicine, was co-authored by Professor Angela Christiano, pictured right. She has personal experience of the autoimmune hair loss condition and has a successful career researching Alopecia. Even though Professor Christiano still experiences occasional bald spots, today she usually sports a full, luxurious head of hair, suggesting that her research findings have been successfully self-administered.

Much of Professor Christiano’s work is devoted to studying Alopecia Areata and other hair loss conditions. In the 1990s, she collaborated with scientists in Pakistan to study the cause of another genetic condition which causes a complete lack of hair on the body or head, successfully identifying the gene responsible.

Clinical trials for Alopecia Areata

Scientists have thought for decades that Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder, yet the precise cause is still undiscovered.

Working with Columbia University Medical Centre’s Department of Dermatology, a small clinical trial of Ruxolitinib, a JAK inhibitor (an oral treatment) was tested on three male trial participants. All volunteers were affected by hair loss across at least 30% of their scalps and the results were startling – all three experienced complete restoration of their hair in four to five months.

Ruxolitinib: A bone marrow drug

Ruxolitinib (Brand Name: Jakafi)Ruxolitinib, which also goes by its brand name, Jakafi, is normally used to treat intermediate myelofibrosis, a bone marrow condition which can be life-threatening, and is also used in the treatment of cancer and other inflammatory diseases. It’s not yet known what side effects Alopecia Areata patients taking the drug could face, but when taken to treat myelofibrosis, side effects include bleeding gums, tarry stools, bladder pain and large purplish patches on the skin. It’s hoped that the drug could be used widely in the treatment of Alopecia Areata, but it’s not likely to be able to cure other hair loss conditions, such as male pattern baldness.

It is not yet known whether Ruxolitinib is a potential treatment option for the more severe forms of Alopecia, where head is lost across the face and head (Alopecia Totalis) or the entire body (Alopecia Universalis). Separate clinical trials are exploring the rheumatoid arthritis drug Tofacitinib Citrate – brand name Xeljanz – to see whether it has the potential to be adapted as a treatment for Alopecia Universalis, but there are similar concerns over potential side effects.

Future Alopecia treatments?

David Bickes, MD, Chair and Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University Medical Centre, praised his team’s results, saying: “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.”

Despite these promising early results for both Ruxolitinib and Xeljanz, there are many hurdles to overcome. Drugs such as Ruxolitinib can be toxic to body tissue, and it is possible that other JAK inhibitors may prove to be more effective in regrowing hair.

More extensive research and full clinical trials are needed to determine whether either of these drugs have the potential to become widely available Alopecia treatments. Currently the most effective treatments for Alopecia Areata include minoxidil, which has been used to promising effect by a number of Belgravia’s alopecia clients, and steroid injections which can be uncomfortable and have a number of unpleasant side effects associated with their use.

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