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Arthritis treatment gives back full head of hair to man with alopecia

A young man who suffered from alopecia can now say thanks to an arthritis drug for his full head of hair. According to CBS News on Friday, the patient regained back all of his body hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and facial hair after he had lost all of it due to developing alopecia universalis—an autoimmune disease that causes the loss of all hair.

The patient went to Yale Dermatology to be treated for the plaque psoriasis he also had, which caused large areas of red, flaky skin on his body. It is generally accepted that there is no cure or even long-term treatment for alopecia. However, when Dr. Brett A. King, an assistant professor of dermatology, examined him, King thought that both his psoriasis and alopecia could be treated. His drug of choice? A rheumatoid arthritis medicine called tofacitinib citrate. CBS notes that there’s been success with treating psoriasis with the drug and in lab tests, the drug also worked on less severe cases of alopecia.

Amazingly, only two months after treatment began, the patient started re-growing facial hair and hair on his scalp. After three more months of a slightly increased dosage, the man had completely regrown scalp hair, and began to grow eyebrows and body hair.

Though the man went in with the intent of treating his psoriasis—he reported that it was mildly effective in treating that condition—he came out with a great surprise: No side effects and a full head of hair for the first time in seven years.

Dr. King stated, “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.”

King states that he thinks the drug works by ‘turning off’ the immune system attacks on the hair follicles that occur in patients with alopecia. His next step is to begin a clinical trial to use the drug in a cream form for patients with less severe cases of alopecia.

What this means for men who are balding regularly, we can’t say. If the drug works with an immune system gone rogue, it might mean that bald men are still out of luck on the hair re-growth front.