Will a better understanding of the cause of alopecia areata lead to a cure?

Hair loss of any kind can be challenging to deal with, but for sufferers of alopecia areata it can be particularly devastating. The treatments that are available can produce varying results and is also not possible to predict the progress of the disease.

Although the majority of patients that experience a mild episode of this autoimmune condition will typically see spontaneous regrowth within a few months to a year, it is also the case that they may experience repeat episodes in the future.

Currently, there is no definitive explanation as to why alopecia areata occurs but recent research studies that have looked at the why, may take us closer to a possible cure.

Diabetes of the hair follicle?

Until recently, very little was actually known about the cause of alopecia areata. Recent research has looked at the role that genetics plays. In an article published in the Pharmaceutical Journal entitled ‘A Ray of Hope for Alopecia Areata Patients’, the condition was summed up by one immunologist as being ‘diabetes of the hair follicle’.

Hair follicles are usually unaffected by the immune system. They are recognised as a part of the body and are therefore given what is essential an ‘immune privilege’. However, in the case of alopecia areata, this immune privilege is switched off and they deliver distress signals that causes the immune system to start attacking them.

Dermatology researcher, Ralf Paus, states the reason most treatments are currently ineffective is because they fail to address and correct the immune privilege.

Could JAK Inhibitors be the key?

Patients with alopecia areata often respond to drugs that are used to treat psoriasis. This is another autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the skin and joints. Now, researchers are looking at drugs that are used to treat other autoimmune conditions.

US dermatologist and an alopecia areata sufferer herself, Dr Angela Christiano and her team tested two JAK inhibitors that are used to treat blood diseases and rheumatoid arthritis for their effectiveness on alopecia areata. Suppressing the way JAK enzymes function within the body, JAK inhibitor drugs such as tofacitinib and ruxolitinib, have shown positive results so far in helping to encourage the hair follicles back into the growth phase.

Studies involving the JAK inhibitor drugs carried out on mice have been so far encouraging. However, further studies are required to test the long-term effects of the treatment and to address any potential safety concerns.

Overall, while further studies are required to assess whether JAK inhibitors could be a successful treatment for alopecia areata, it has provided fresh hope to experts that a cure could now be in sight. Alopecia areata can currently be treated in its mild and moderate forms, but this new research provides hope for a long-term cure which could change the lives of those genetically predisposed to the condition.

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