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Drug reverses some balding, study says

NEW YORK — A drug that suppresses immune system activity by blocking certain enzymes has had some success in helping bald patients grow hair, according to research published Sunday.

After successfully testing on mice two drugs from a new class of medicines called JAK inhibitors, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center began using one of the drugs, ruxolitinib, on seven women and five men.

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The results, published in the journal Nature Medicine, for several participants have been significant.

The first thing patient Brian H. noticed was that he could grow a real beard. It had been years since that had been possible, years spent bedeviled by hair loss on his head, face, arms and legs.

Brian, 34, who asked that his last name be withheld to protect his privacy, suffers from alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease afflicting about 1 percent of men and women, causing hair loss. He believes the “mangy patches” of baldness that have plagued him since his 20s have cost him jobs and relationships.

After trying various treatments, Brian enrolled in the Columbia study testing whether a drug approved for a bone marrow disorder could help people with alopecia. One of the study’s leaders, Dr. Angela Christiano, is a dermatology professor and geneticist who herself has alopecia areata.

The disease differs from other types of hair loss, including male pattern baldness, and there is no evidence the drug will work for those conditions. And experts caution that even for alopecia, it is too early to know if the treatment will work for most patients and if there are safety concerns.

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