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Could Blocking the Immune System Help to Stop Hair Loss in Women?
by April Maguire
Currently, one of the most common causes of hair loss for women around the world is a condition known as alopecia areata. In fact, according to recent data, nearly 150 million people alive today either currently suffer from this condition or will develop it at some point in their lives. Fortunately though, a new treatment option might be on the horizon that could serve as a cure.
What is Alopecia Areata?
A common autoimmune disease, alopecia areata is a condition where the body's own immune system mistakenly begins to attack hair follicles, preventing them from growing new hairs. Typically, the disorder first appears as small, smooth, round patches of missing hair, but in roughly 20% of the people who have alopecia areata, the condition progresses to a more extensive loss of hair over large portions of the body. Sometimes sufferers will report a tingling or burning sensation to go along with the hair loss, and inflammation is not uncommon. Often, the lost portions of hair will grow back in time, but for some people the hair loss is permanent.
Traditional Treatment Options
Despite the widespread nature of the condition, there is no tried and true remedy for alopecia areata. For people with only a minimal amount of hair loss, doctors will often prescribe cortisone injections or topical creams, but these treatments can be costly and they aren't guaranteed to regrow new hair or to stop more bald patches from forming. In more severe cases, doctors will often turn to cortisone pills. Unfortunately, these pills come with a number of side effects from prolonged use, and patients often find that their hair falls out again after the treatment has stopped.
How Can Blocking the Immune System Help?
Since alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition, proper manipulation of the body's immune system could cure the disease. In fact, an autoimmune suppressor, known as a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blocker was developed more than a decade ago. After initial tests proved promising, research performed in 2006 showed that the original TNF blocker medication was ultimately ineffective. Still, there is hope within the scientific community that new research could expand upon the TNF blocker model and ultimately create a cure for alopecia areata.
According to researchers, one of the main problems is funding. Even though alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder in the same class as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, the condition is still thought of as a simple cosmetic issue. But if more money and attention were paid to the problem, a breakthrough cure for alopecia areata could lead to breakthroughs for a number of other autoimmune disorders.
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