Innovative treatment of a child with severe alopecia

Innovative treatment of a child with severe alopecia

Connecticut board-certified dermatologist Brett King MD, PhD, FAAD, was named an American Academy of Dermatology Patient Care Hero for pioneering an innovative new treatment for severe dermatologic conditions that are sometimes disabling, sometimes disfiguring, and usually uncomfortable, thus restoring normalcy and improving patients’ lives, the American Academy of Dermatology announced.


For 13-year-old Matthew Riccardi of Northbrook, Ill., life took an unexpected turn when his parents noticed a small patch of hair missing from his head. His pediatrician diagnosed him with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that develops when the body attacks its own hair follicles, causing hair loss. While alopecia can happen at any age, for many patients alopecia begins during childhood or teenage years.


Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors

Within two weeks of the diagnosis, Matthew lost all hair on his head, followed by his eyebrows and eyelashes shortly after. Following ineffective topical treatments and other medications to stop his immune system from damaging his hair follicles, Matthew’s parents contacted Dr. King, who recommended using Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, an innovative new treatment which blocks the cell communication that causes various skin diseases, including alopecia areata. Five months later, Matthew had a full head of hair once again.


Understanding patients’ conditions

Understanding patients’ conditions and how to make them better is a never-ending exploration, and it’s critically important because we can alleviate immense suffering and restore normalcy,” said Dr. King, associate professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. “There’s such a desire and need for innovative treatments, as skin conditions can have devastating effects on patients, and those around them, like Matthew and his family endured.”

The severity of the hair loss drastically affected Matthew’s confidence and mental health. Before Dr. King’s treatment, Matthew’s parents said he became a shell of his once happy-go-lucky self. Research shows many people diagnosed with alopecia also struggle with mental health conditions or disorders, particularly depression and anxiety.


We weren’t prepared for the immense mental toll that Matthew’s alopecia areata would have on him. As much as we wanted to fix his hair, we desperately wanted him to regain his confidence and love of life,” said Jamie Riccardi, Matthew’s mother. “Dr. King did much more than treat Matthew’s alopecia — he changed his life.”

The AAD created the Patient Care Heroes program to recognize physicians who transform patients’ lives by utilizing their expertise and collaborating with other physicians.