HealthDay News — A drug used to treat a rare type of bone marrow cancer restores hair in patients with alopecia areata according to research published in Nature Medicine.

Alopecia areata (AA) is a common autoimmune disease resulting from damage of the hair follicle by T cells. The immune pathways required for autoreactive T cell activation in AA are not defined, limiting clinical development of rational targeted therapies, explained Luzhou Xing, PhD, of Columbia University, and colleagues.

The drug ruxolitinib (Jakafi) restored hair in a small number of patients diagnosed with alopecia areata. Currently, there are no known treatments to completely restore hair in these patients.

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After identifying the immune cells that destroy hair follicles in patients with alopecia areata, the investigators discovered that ruxolitinib, which is FDA approved to treat a bone marrow cancer called myelofibrosis, eliminated these immune cells.

The study team tested the drug in mice and then in a small number of people with moderate-to-severe alopecia areata, who had more than 30% hair loss. Within five months of starting treatment, three patients had total hair regrowth.

“We’ve only begun testing the drug in patients, but if the drug continues to be successful and safe, it will have a dramatic positive impact on the lives of people with this disease,” the researchers said in a press release.


  1. Xing L et al. Nature Medicine. 2014; doi:10.1038/nm.3645