Over 500,000 Australians including women, men and children are affected by alopecia areata.
Alopecia areata is a common autoimmune skin disease causing hair loss on the scalp, face and sometimes on other areas of the body. It can range from small, individual smooth patches of hair loss, to total loss of all hair on the body – including ear and nose hair.
Alopecia areata is a treatable but not fully curable. The hair usually grows back, but it can take several months.
No one knows for sure what causes alopecia areata, but it’s probably triggered by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Some people believe that extreme stress and anxiety can trigger it, but there is little scientific evidence to support this.
This life changing condition can have a profound psychological and emotional impact on these individuals.
Promising news on the horizon for some people with alopecia areata?
A new international study shows that one in three patients with alopecia areata were able to regrow hair after being treated with a common arthritis drug.
The study is based on Phase 3 clinical trials using baricitinib, a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor, Phase 3 clinical trials are the final testing hurdle before a new treatment can be considered for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. There is currently no FDA-approved treatment for the disease.
“This is so exciting, because the data clearly show how effective baricitinib is,” said Dr. Brett King, an associate professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “These large, controlled trials tell us that we can alleviate some of the suffering from this awful disease.”
For the new study, Dr King and his colleagues conducted two randomised trials involving a total of 1,200 people. The participants were adults with severe alopecia areata, who had lost at least half of their scalp hair; many had lost all their scalp hair.
For 36 weeks, participants were given a daily dose of either 4 milligrams of baricitinib, 2 milligrams of baricitinib, or a placebo. One-third of the patients who received the larger dose grew hair back.
The researchers said baricitinib thwarts the disease by disrupting the communication of immune cells involved in harming hair follicles. Baricitinib and other JAK inhibitors are routinely used to treat autoimmune forms of joint disease.
Longer trials are required to assess the efficacy and safety of baricitinib for alopecia areata.
Co-authors of the study included researchers from the Kyorin University Faculty of Medicine, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Stanford University, the University of California-Irvine, the University of Minnesota, Eli Lilly and Company, and Sinclair Dermatology.
Dr. King is a consultant to and a clinical trials investigator for Eli Lilly and Company who funded the research.
This is just one example of the research and clinical trials currently taking place in the world to help patient’s manage alopecia areata.