Targeting the Immune System
Researchers are looking for medicines that target the immune system and can:
- Block certain chemical messengers that play a role in the immune response
- Interfere with the activity of white blood cells (called T-cells) that are involved in the immune system's attack on hair follicles
- Benefit patients with alopecia areata.
Finding Better Ways to Administer Drugs
One limitation of current topical therapies is getting the drug to the source of the problem. Researchers are looking for a substance that can penetrate the fat under the skin to deliver the medication directly to hair follicles. In laboratory animals, topically applied synthetic sacs called liposomes seem to work. However, studies are still needed to show whether liposomes will work for people.
Chemical messengers called cytokines play a role in regulating the body's immune response. Researchers believe that by giving certain inflammation-suppressing cytokines, they may be able to slow down or stop the body's abnormal response to the hair follicles. However, cytokines may cause adverse effects, which is why researchers believe that using a topical medication to get to the root of the hair inside the follicle may be preferable.
Understanding Stem Cell Biology
Epithelial stem cells are immature cells that are responsible for regenerating and maintaining a variety of tissues, including the skin and the hair follicles. Stem cells in the hair follicles are not affected in alopecia areata, which may explain why the potential for re-growth is always there. By studying the biology of these cells, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of factors that trigger alopecia areata.