What are the risks of tofacitinib for alopecia patients?Alopecia areata can be a particularly distressing condition that can strike either sex at any age. The condition starts with hair falling out in patches and often leads to total hair loss, known as alopecia universalis.

It’s an auto-immune disease where the body’s defence mechanisms attack perfectly healthy hair follicles which are mistaken for invading bacteria or a virus.

There is no known cure for the condition, although there has been news recently that a couple of people regrew their hair using a new “miracle cure”, tofacitinib citrate.

Hair completely grew back

The drug is unavailable in the UK at the moment but it has been licensed elsewhere in the world, including the USA.

The drug is currently used to treat auto-immune rheumatoid arthritis so it wasn’t a great leap to try it on patients suffering from auto immune alopecia areata.

Recently the treatment was trialed in Brasil on two patients (male and female) who’d been bald for over ten years. After a daily dosage of the drug over a two month period hair regrew on the scalp, eyebrows and under the arms.

Serious side effects

Unfortunately, however, it’s not all good news. Tofacitinib comes with potential side effects. These can include upper respiratory tract infections, headaches, hypertension, diarrhoea and inflammation of the nasal passage.

Worse still, according to the product’s website it can lead to more serious complications including tuberculosis, cancer, immune system problems and even perforated stomach and bowels. It may just be that the risks involved are too great for this to ever become a viable cure for hair loss caused by alopecia.

Although as Dr Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York has said, “Hair Loss really affects your self esteem, I have patients who are near suicidal because of hair loss.”

It’s too early to be sure whether tofacitinib is the breakthrough that everyone with alopecia has been waiting for the early signs are promising. If nothing else the trial goes some way towards confirming the auto-immune nature of the condition.

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By Ian Watson

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