Mike Thomas was in his mid-40s when he went bald. I don’t mean that he had a little bald spot or just a receding hairline. I mean that he went totally bald. The reason for his hair loss was medical. He fell victim to the autoimmune disease alopecia areata, often referred to as male pattern baldness. Needless to say it left Mike distraught.
He was left looking like, in his own words no less, a “freak” after he was robbed of his eyebrows and eyelashes. He would walk down the street and feel the eyes of everyone on him, wondering what was wrong with him. Some people would even ask him if he had cancer; thinking that he had lost his hair to chemo.
He talked about how depressed it made him; how it affected every part of his life and how horrible the entire situation was. He thought about different treatments for his condition. Like micro scalp pigmentation, among other things.
Then, earlier this year, Thomas took a little white pill that is used to treat arthritis. Somehow he found that his hair had completely grown back within 7 months. He beamed and talked about how incredible it was to have all his hair back.
What This Arthritis Pill Means for Men With Common Baldness
Thomas, along with 65 other patients, took part in a study that was conducted at Stanford, Yale and Columbia. The patients in the trial all had alopecia areata and they were given this white pill, known as Xeljanz. Xeljanz is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, which is another autoimmune disease.
Over half of the subjects in the study experienced hair regrowth. A third of these saw over half of their lost hair restored. There was a separate study, also conducted on alopecia areata patients that saw 9 out of 12 patients recover over half of their hair when given a drug similar to Xeljanz called Jakafi. Jakafi is used in the treatment of cancer.
While researchers say that the news is possibly great for alopecia areata patients such as Thomas, it does leave the question of what it means for men who lose their hair due to Male Pattern Baldness. Are they doomed just because they are older men?
The answer to this could be found in Thomas’ head. Even though Thomas did have his hair grow back, he still had a receding hairline. The reason for this is pretty simple; the Xeljanz gave him the hair of a 47-year old man, rather than the hair of a 25-year old man.
Mike was incredibly to have his hair back, even if it was still receding; describing it as incredible.
Thomas’ dermatologist, Dr Bret King of Yale, has decided to try something new; taking an ointment containing Xeljanz and rubbing it onto the heads of male alopecia areata patients.
The question now is whether the men will find themselves with a full head of hair, or if they will end up the same as Thomas and many other men in the previous study; growing back hair that is still affected by male pattern baldness.
Dermatologists are divided about whether they should be skeptic of the results or optimistic about them. Dr King believes that the ointment won’t get rid of the male pattern baldness, but some of his colleagues are a little more optimistic about the situation. Dr Angela Christiano is one such colleague. She’s the co-author of the study that was published recently and she says she experienced success by rubbing a Xeljanz ointment into the skin of mice who had their skin treated to be similar to the skin of bald men. In a strange twist the bald mice only regrew hair on their right side with the help of hair loss cream, but not on the left side.
Why It’s so Hard to Stop Male Pattern Baldness
Given that the marvels of modern medicine allow to treat neurological disorders and even have an effect on cancer you’d think it would be pretty easy to get hair to grow back. Dr George Cotsarelis of the University of Pennsylvania said that you would think there might be something that you could sprinkle on your head similar to the way you get grass to grow. Unfortunately the physiology behind hair growth is a bit more complicated than something so simple.
King, who is an assistant professor of dermatology with Yale, said that an autoimmune disease like alopecia areata leaves you basically trying to trick the environment that surrounds your hair. He compared it to making a plant believe that it’s spring during the middle of winter. If you were to put a light near the plant it will warm up and believe that it’s summer.
Things are a little different with male pattern baldness however. What you’re dealing with here is a hair follicle that has simply given up. King said that in this case it’s more like taking a brown plant that’s pretty much dead and trying to make it grow again.
People are also spending less money trying to fix the problem of male pattern baldness than you’d think. King believes that the major pharmaceutical companies should be spending billions trying to fix the problem because they could get incredible payoffs in return. Just look at how much money men spend on unproven hair restoration treatments. Imagine how much they would spend on ones that guarantee results.
King believes that the big companies are scared that they would be unable to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unless the male pattern baldness treatment had a few side effects at most. This is because male pattern baldness is a cosmetic problem and not a disease; despite the psychological damage that men say they suffer from male pattern baldness, especially if they begin to lose their hair at a young age.
Cotsarelis, who is a professor with the Perelam School of Medicine, is currently working with some smaller companies on using stem cell therapies to treat male pattern baldness. Cotsarelis is also working on tissue engineering, which essentially means creating hair producing skin and then transplanting it to the scalp.
Cotseralis believes that there will eventually be a number of treatments for male pattern baldness and that some of these will work better for some people than they do others.