Medications that are used to treat chronic inflammatory arthritis and cancer may also be effective at re-growing hair when applied as a cream to the scalp. Despite the fact that many treatments for cancer cause hair loss, it seems the specialized class of drugs known as JAK inhibitors can stimulate hair growth.
One of the hair loss conditions against which these drugs may be effective is alopecia areata, which is baldness caused by an autoimmune response against the body’s hair follicles. JAK inhibitors help keep the body’s immune system from overreacting, which explains why they are also effective at curbing the damaging immune reaction responsible for rheumatoid arthritis and also at treating cancers that affect the immune system. Columbia University scientists have discovered that the patients with alopecia areata who received the medication topically found that they had relatively robust and rapid hair re-growth, especially compared to medications that were administered orally.
The drugs have a direct effect on the hair follicles. The JAK (Janus kinase) enzyme is responsible for placing the hair growth cycle into its telogen, or “resting” phase. When drugs that inhibit the action of this enzyme are applied, the hair is allowed to restart the anagen, or “growth” phase. Testing of the JAK inhibitors on hairless mice resulted in hair growth beginning after 10 days, with significant growth within weeks.
The FDA has approved a number of JAK inhibitors for purchase on the market, including Xeljanz and Jakafi.
It is thought that because these drugs weaken the immune system, using them to treat regular male pattern baldness for cosmetic reasons would not be advisable; however, using them topically for these conditions may be a safer choice. Since the follicles of those with male pattern baldness are also stuck in the same telogen phase as those with alopecia areata, this treatment has the potential to stimulate hair growth in these cases as well. Topical application also appears to be more effective at delivering the drug to the hair follicles.
Drugs to treat hair loss have been hard to come by via normal scientific drug development and testing. Instead, hair loss medications have been uncovered as side effects from medications created to treat other conditions, including glaucoma and prostate enlargement.
These discoveries are helping scientists to understand hair loss and moving medical science ever closer to a cure for the condition.
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