Alopecia UK funds invested: £10,000

When: April 2024 – April 2025

Project type: Clinical Research and Basic Science

Project lead: Dr Nihull Jakharia-shah

Research Institute: Blizard Institute, Queen Mary University of London 

Conditions studied: Alopecia – all types

Funds being used for: Staff salary, laboratory materials, equipment, patient reimbursement

Research aims:

To improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis of conditions causing alopecia via software applied to dermoscopic images of scalps. 

Justification for the research project:

The rate of correct clinical diagnosis of causes of alopecia is approximately 73% (compared to up to 88% in other skin conditions), this number falls when discounting alopecia areata and misdiagnosis is particularly problematic in skin of colour. Thus, there is good potential for improving diagnosis of these conditions. Diagnosing the exact cause can be challenging, even for specialists, and relies on the ability to examine the scalp closely to identify specific signs of each disease. Timely diagnosis and treatment is particularly important for a form of hair loss called scarring alopecia which results in permanent hair loss. Early diagnosis and treatment of scarring alopecia is vital to minimise the extent of permanent hair loss. The psycho-social and economic impact of hair loss to an individual can be severe. Patients with alopecia are 3-times more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Therefore, it is important to ensure patients receive the best possible care.

How will the research be done:

As the skin is a visible organ, we can examine it directly with digital imaging technology. We will utilise this, alongside image analysis software, to better identify clinical signs from dermoscopic images of patients' scalps. The images will be taken at the time of examination by a consultant dermatologist with special interest in hair disease. This will ensure findings are accurate and verified at the time of image collection.  

These images will be analysed using software to determine if the phenotype of different types of alopecia can be identified by digital image analysis. We hope to create an accessible tool to improve the speed and accuracy of causes of alopecia, ensuring patients receive the best treatment possible.

Where possible we will also collect biopsies from the scalp of patients with alopecia. We will analyse the biopsy specimen using histology and in a novel culture device to better understand the pathogenesis of alopecia. This will further verify if the imaging software can be used in clinic to help healthcare professionals diagnose causes of hair loss and monitor disease over time. 

Ultimately, we aim to improve diagnosis, akin to melanoma image analysis, which is now correctly identifying this skin cancer with over 96% accuracy.

Who is leading the project:

Dr Nihull Jakharia-Shah is a Dermatology Registrar (ST4). His clinical training is across Essex but he conducts research at The Blizard Institute, Queen Mary’s University London, and holds an honorary contract at Bart’s NHS Trust for this. His previous academic experience includes an intercalated BSc degree (First Class Hons) for which was awarded the King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship Award. He has published multiple times, including in the prestigious Journal of Investigative Dermatology and presented at over 10 National/International meetings. His presentations have been awarded prizes from the Royal Society of Medicine and British Association of Dermatologists. He has been involved in clinical trials for dermatology therapeutics and COVID vaccine trials as a study doctor. Dr Nihull Jakharia-Shah will be collaborating with Dr Rosalind Hannen (QMUL and Keratify Ltd), Professor Mike Philpott (QMUL), and Dr Nicola Clayton (The London Skin and Hair Clinic).