Autoimmune drug becomes a go-to treatment
Finding the right treatment for Purvis and other patients has been the target of Jabbari’s research since his days as a trainee. While completing his postdoctoral training at Columbia University Medical Center, Jabbari joined the lab of Angela Christiano, PhD. They set out to characterize alopecia areata from an immunological standpoint and ultimately created a preclinical rationale for repurposing JAK inhibitors—a drug used to reduce the inflammation in autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis—for alopecia areata.
“We had a mouse model of the disease where we did our mechanistic work, and then we started using JAK inhibitors in patients,” Jabbari says. “Patients who were formerly bald started growing hair like gangbusters, so that led to some really striking photographs and a big, splashy publication for the lab.”
Jabbari was one of the lead investigators on the landmark study, published August 2014 in Nature Medicine. As a result, JAK inhibitors have quickly become a go-to treatment for patients with severe alopecia areata.
But the condition did take its toll.
“Not having my hair was really hard on me emotionally,” she says. “It's surprising how much head hair makes you feel like yourself.”
Purvis’s Fort Dodge doctor didn’t have many treatment options left for her to try, so he referred her to Jabbari.
She was relieved to learn that Jabbari immediately had a treatment plan, and she started taking a JAK inhibitor called tofacitinib, or Xeljanz.
“I was on the medicine for roughly four years, and now my hair is back to 100% normal.”
After losing much of her hair as a result of alopecia areata, Cody Purvis shaved her head in November 2017. Once she was referred to the UI Hair Loss Disorders Clinic, she was relieved to learn Ali Jabbari, MD, PhD, had a treatment plan which included taking a JAK inhibitor called tofacitinib, or Xeljanz. Her hair is now back to its full length and thickness. Photos courtesy of Cody Purvis.