In yet another potential spinoff from an existing treatment, a drug given to cancer patients has helped them regain hair within five months of chemotherapy, and has given new hope to sufferers from alopecia areata, a disease that leads to partial or total hair loss.
Lead researcher Dr Raphael Clynes said that though they had just started testing the drug, ruxolitinib, in patients, it could have a "dramatic positive impact" on a lot of people if it proved to be effective and safe.
Columbia University Medical Centre researchers conducted the pilot trial, which followed tests on mice using two drugs known as JAK inhibitors that could be taken in pill form and obstruct immune pathways (See: FDA-approved drug restores hair in patients with Alopecia Areata).
Clynes said that they still needed to study the drug further in order to make sure that ruxolitinib, which is approved for the treatment of bone marrow cancer in the US and EU, should be used in alopecia areata.
Hair loss, while not physically detrimental, can have a serious psychological impact on people – witness the number of 'hair replacement clinics' that have sprung up all over India's larger cities.
Four years ago, a team led by Prof Angela Christiano from the Columbia University Medical Centre discovered the genetic basis of alopecia areata, the most common auto-immune disease in humans. The new research, published in the latest edition of Nature Medicine journal, takes these findings further.