A rheumatoid arthritis drug has been found to spur hair regrowth in patients suffering from hair loss due to the autoimmune disease, alopecia areata. The study, though small, shows surprisingly robust results that may offer promise to people who would otherwise bear disfiguring hair loss.
In Brief: Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own hair follicles. This is different from other forms of baldness, which mainly just cause scalp hair loss. Alopecia areata affects the entire body, including the eyebrows and eyelashes. Since the condition often first appears in children, it can have particularly devastating effects on a person’s self-esteem and social development. Alopecia areata is one of the more common autoimmune diseases, with an incidence of about 2% across the world—though individual severity can vary.
The study was small and only had 66 participants who received the arthritis drug, tofacitinib (brand name Xeljanz). Of those treated, 21 (32%) saw a 50% or greater improvement in their symptoms, regrowing over half of their initial lost scalp hair after three months. Alopecia areata can come in waves and participants who had shorter durations of these occurrences saw better improvements. When treatment was stopped, the disease relapsed after about eight and a half weeks. Side effects were limited to a higher rate of grade I and II infections, which was similar to the effects seen when the drug is used for rheumatoid arthritis.
The findings are promising and do suggest that there is grounds to pursue tofacitinib and similar drugs as potential treatments for alopecia areata. Future investigations, in addition to getting a much larger sample size, will need to assess the potential effects and side effects on younger patients (all participants here were adult) as well as any long-term consequences that may develop. Hair loss can be a significant source of distress, so hopefully further looks at the use of arthritis drugs will show results.
Crispin, M., et al., “Safety and efficacy of the JAK inhibitor tofacitinib citrate in patients with alopecia areata,” JCI Insight, 2016; 10.1172/jci.insight.89776.