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According to US scientists, a pill taken two times a day for a period of just four months could just be the answer to those with balding problems and wishing to remain with their hair and looking younger.
The astonishing results from a drug used to treat bone marrow cancer will bring hope to millions whose hair is thinning.
The improvement was seen in people with the disorder alopecia, but US researchers said lab results suggest it could also help with more common types of baldness. Some 6.5 million British men have male-pattern baldness, the natural loss of hair from the temples and crown, with some starting to go bald in their teens, reported Britain’s Daily Mail.
Millions of women across the world also have thinning hair, and experts say they are more likely to be psychologically affected. But a drug called ruxolitinib that was given to people with the disorder alopecia areata, which makes hair fall out in clumps, appears to reverse the process.
Although some patients affected by alopecia areata recover within the first year, others will progress to lose all their bodily hair.
Famous sufferers include the comedy star Matt Lucas and TV presenter Gail Porter.
Ruxolitinib is usually used to treat cancer of the bone marrow, but when given to the alopecia sufferers, it had a dramatic effect.
Nine of 12 men and women involved in the US trial grew at least half their hair back – and some regained more than 95 per cent.
A few suffered side-effects, including acne and allergies, but these were minor and short-lived.
However, the Journal of Clinical Investigation reports that hair began to fall out again for several patients after the treatment was stopped.
It is thought ruxolitinib, which is part of a family of drugs known as JAK inhibitors, worked its magic by stopping the immune system from attacking the cells that sprout hair.
Angela Christiano, of the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, said, “The results have been quite astounding compared to previously available treatments.”
With a similar drug that also tricks hair into re-growing being tested at Stanford and Yale universities in the US, hopes of a treatment for alopecia are high. To the surprise of Columbia University researchers, experiments on mice suggest that ruxolitinib might also help with male-pattern baldness, even though the condition is quite different to alopecia.
More research into the drug is under way, but if larger and longer trials show it is safe and effective, it could be widely used to treat alopecia within five years.
Dr Christiano said, “We expect JAK inhibitors to have widespread utility across many forms of hair loss. There is excitement here.
“Even it treats 75 per cent of alopecia patients, that’s a great improvement on what’s available.”
Her colleague Julian Mackay-Wiggan urged caution, adding that a lot of work still needed to be done.
Finding a cure for baldness is a key area of medical research that has taken researchers in odd directions, including studies into beehives.
Last year, scientists in Japan found that a waxy material called propolis, used by bees to seal small gaps in their hives, stimulates hair growth.
The effects were studied on mice, but the scientists believe they have relevance to millions of people whose hair is thinning.
Propolis is a natural antiseptic and has been used for thousands of years as a treatment for everything from cancer to cold sores.
The team, from Hokkaido University in Sapporo, applied the substance to the backs of mice that had been shaved or waxed.
Those given the treatment re-grew their fur faster than others. After three weeks, the treated mice still had all their fur, while the other animals only had patchy re-growth.