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Could cancer and rheumatoid arthritis drugs be the cure for hair loss?

Although baldness is genetic, it doesn’t mean that every person carrying the gene will eventually go bald. However, it doesn’t mean that those who don’t carry the gene are out of the clear.

But don’t fret yet. A new study says that drugs developed to fight rheumatoid arthritis and cancer could work as creams to stimulate hair growth. This could potentially offer a baldness “cure,” according to researchers.

Though cancer treatments are normally associated with hair loss, some drugs–called JAK inhibitors–can actually help it grow, according to NBC News. One of those drugs is called tofacitinib (Xeljanz), which is approved for rheumatoid arthritis and another is called ruxolitinib (Jakafi), which is used to treat certain cancers.

Angela Christiano and her Columbia University colleagues have been testing those drugs for a rare form of hair loss called alopecia areata. This rare condition is caused by the immune system’s ability to mistakenly attack hair follicles.

The drugs suppress irrelevant immune responses. This is why they help with some forms of blood cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

“The surprise was when we started using the drugs on alopecia areata patients, when we used them topically the hair grew back much faster and more robustly than it did orally,” Christiano told NBC News. Christiano added that it got the researchers wondering “how that can be. It’s a little counter-intuitive.”

They discovered that the hair follicles were affected directly. The drugs put the hairs into a stage of “rest.”

“It’s actually promoting the resting state of the hair follicle. The inhibitors … allow the hair to enter the hair cycle,” Christiano said.

Researchers rubbed the drugs onto the skin of some bald mice for five days. Within 10 days, there was new hair on the mice, according to the report in the journal Science Advances.

“There are very few compounds that can push hair follicles into their growth cycle so quickly,” she added. “Some topical agents induce tufts of hair here and there after a few weeks, but very few have such a potent and rapid-acting effect.”

So what does this mean?

“The ultimate potential is a very effective topical product to rub on the scalp to help with all types of hair loss,” explains Johns Hopkins School of Medicine associate professor of dermatology Dr. Luis Garza. However, Garza adds that “more work needs to be done to translate these findings to a product which can be tested in a clinical trial on people.”

Additionally, Christiano said that JAK inhibitors are “among the very few number of compounds that produce hair growth very soon after their application.” But, we won’t be seeing this used on humans just yet.

“What we’ve found is promising, though we haven’t yet shown it is effective for male pattern baldness. More work needs to be done to test formulations of JAK inhibitors specially made for the scalp to determine whether they can induce hair growth in humans,” she said.

About Meredith Rodefer

Meredith Rodefer
Meredith Rodefer is a freelance writer, who focuses on anything from lifestyle blogging to hard news, and dancer. Beyond Youth Independent, she has written for sites such as, and Contact Meredith: