An arthritis drug has been used to cure a man who was almost completely bald from alopecia universalis.
Tofacitinib citrate was used to treat the 25-year-old who had lost most of his hair after getting alopecia – a disease there is currently no long-term treatment or cure for.
The man had not grown hair for seven years. However, after being treated with the arthritis drug for just three months, he had regrown a head of hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, some facial hair and armpit hair.
Alopecia universalis occurs in approximately one in every 200,000 people. It is thought to be an auto immune disorder and can affect anyone at any age.
Senior author of the study Brett A King, a dermatologist from Yale University School of Medicine, said: "The results are exactly what we hoped for. 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 alopecia, the man was also diagnosed with plaque psoriasis, a condition that meant he had red scaly areas of skin.
Researchers decided to try treating him with tofacitinib – an FDA approved drug for rheumatoid arthritis – as it had been successful used to treat psoriasis on humans in the past. It had also reversed alopecia areata, a less extreme form of the disease, in mice.
King thought the drug might address both diseases simultaneously. After two months of being treated with tofacitinib, the man's psoriasis had started to improve and he had started to grow hair. After three months, he had grown a full head of hair.
Study co-author Brittany G Craiglow said: "By eight months there was full regrowth of hair. The patient has reported feeling no side effects, and we've seen no lab test abnormalities, either."
Published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the authors say this is the first reported case of a successful targeted treatment of alopecia universalis.
"There are no good options for long-term treatment of alopecia universalis," King said. "The best available science suggested this might work, and it has."
The drug treats alopecia by turning off the immune system's attack on hair follicles. The researchers have now submitted a proposal for a clinical trial of a cream form of tofacitinib for treatment of alopecia.