The cure for hairloss has been an elusive one: most treatments either aim to prevent further hair loss but none have been effective at 'regrowing' lost hair. For many, the only option for a full head of hair is a transplant.
However, a ground-breaking new treatment from Yale University may revolutionise hair loss as we know it, and give hope to thousands of men and women searching for a solution.
Using a completely new method that involved administering drugs normally used to treat arthritis, they helped a 25-year-old man who was suffering from alopecia universalis - a condition that causes you to lose all your hair - to regrow a full head of hair.
At present there is no cure for the condition, and this is the first time a successful treatment has been found for the disease which can often be distressing for sufferers.
Yale also reported that the patient has also grown eyebrows and eyelashes, as well as facial, armpit, and other hair.
"The results are exactly what we hoped for," said Brett A. King, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine and senior author of a paper reporting the results online 18 June in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
"This is a huge step forward in the treatment of patients with this condition. While it's one case, we anticipated the successful treatment of this man based on our current understanding of the disease and the drug. We believe the same results will be duplicated in other patients, and we plan to try."
As well as the alopecia universalis, the patient also had plaque psoriasis, a condition characterised by scaly red areas of skin. The only hair he had was where the psoriasis affected his skin, and was referred to Yale Dermatology for treatment of the psoriasis.
King believed it might be possible to address both diseases simultaneously using an existing drug for rheumatoid arthritis called tofacitinib citrate, said Yale.
The drug had been used successfully for treating psoriasis in humans. It had also reversed alopecia areata, a less extreme form of alopecia, in mice.
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"There are no good options for long-term treatment of alopecia universalis," said King, a clinician interested in the treatment of rare but devastating skin diseases. "The best available science suggested this might work, and it has."
After two months on tofacitinib at 10 mg daily, the patient's psoriasis showed some improvement, and the man had grown scalp and facial hair — the first hair he'd grown there in seven years. After three more months of therapy at 15 mg daily, the patient had completely regrown scalp hair and also had clearly visible eyebrows, eyelashes, and facial hair, as well as armpit and other hair, the doctors said.
"By eight months there was full regrowth of hair," said co-author Brittany G. Craiglow, M.D. "The patient has reported feeling no side effects, and we've seen no lab test abnormalities, either."
Tofacitinib appears to spur hair regrowth in a patient with alopecia universalis by turning off the immune system attack on hair follicles that is prompted by the disease, King said.
The drug helps in some, but not all, cases of psoriasis, and was mildly effective in this patient's case, the authors said.
King has submitted a proposal for a clinical trial involving a cream form of tofacitinib as a treatment for alopecia areata.