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Although it is safe to say that few people would like to be diagnosed with a disease, it is also possible to suggest that the way many individuals react to their diagnosis depends in part on their prognosis. However, some illnesses are less understood than others, which leads to difficulties in establishing a feasible prognosis. This in turn leads to a lower level of perceived well being among that patient group.

One of those illnesses is Alopecia areata. Here we explain the diversity of symptoms, and follow the research history of a team whose efforts are said to be at the forefront in investigating the causes and treatments of alopecia areata.

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that affects individuals at different stage of their lives. It manifests itself in the form of hair loss. Some individuals only have one occurrence with small round patches on their head or chin. Other individuals have recurring episodes of patches or complete hair loss on the head and body.

The length of time that a person has a bald patch varies greatly, and whilst some individuals can have it for a few months with full re growth, other individuals have a complete lack of re growth after a year.

The treatments to date are considered to have a fairly low success rate, as many patients tend to have their hair re grow naturally after a few months. In addition to that, it has been noted that treatments on the market may not be a long term solution, as it is not established that hair growth will remain after a patient stops to use the treatment.

In 2008 a team of scientists published a landmark study within this field of research. The study suggested a feasible process in the development of alopecia areata. Essentially it was argued that immune cells were attacking hair follicles as a result of hair follicles emitting danger signals to immune cells. They followed this finding up with animal studies and were able to establish which set of T cells played a key part in attacking the follicles.

Whilst that alone was striking, it was quickly out of the spotlight when the researchers demonstrated that all of their findings pointed to specific immune pathways that would be responsible in enabling the T cells to attack the hair follicles. In addition to that, they argued that currently regulated treatments for bone marrow disease were likely to be efficacious in the treatment of alopecia areata.

The most recent study that has been published in Nature Medicine was the first study from that team where they tested the so called JAK inhibitor treatment on mice and humans with alopecia. The researchers administered the treatment to three patients who had more than 30 percent hair loss, and were considered to have moderate to severe alopecia areata. The key findings were promising as all of the human patients had fully restored hair growth at five month follow up. In addition to that, it was also reported that the T cells believed to be responsible for the attacks on the follicles were absent in the participants’ scalps. Based on this, the researchers concluded that the results are promising but that more large scale studies would be needed to confirm the findings.

Given that we know that most patients have a complete re growth after a year without substantial assistance from mediations we are inclined to think that these reports may not be the success story they have been hailed to be. Ironically, time will tell if the findings are substantial enough to illuminate the prognoses given today.
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