Alopecia UK was honoured to be invited to attend the European Hair Research Society conference in Sheffield in June. It was inspiring to listen to presentations from hair researchers from around Europe and beyond, ranging from PhD students to distinguished professors. They spanned many different aspects of hair research, including how hair develops and grows, aging, different types of hair disorders, and psychological effects of hair loss.

One of the early career researchers sharing their results at this conference was Leah Redmond, from Imperial College London. Alopecia UK provided her with a travel grant, and we were proud to sponsor such a talented researcher to attend the conference.

Leah told us: ‘Thanks to a generous travel grant from Alopecia UK, I was able to go to my first ever in person conference, the EHRS meeting in Sheffield in June 2023. I’m a first year PhD student in the Higgins Lab in the Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London, and my PhD focuses on the role of the dermal papilla in human hair fibre pigmentation (more on this later). I was awarded the ‘Best scientific research’ poster award at the EHRS conference, which is my first major academic award. This was a true honour to receive, especially so early in my career, and something which would never have happened if my attendance had not been funded by Alopecia UK.’

We congratulate Leah on her poster award, it was certainly well deserved! We further asked Leah about her experience at this conference, from the perspective of someone looking to establish a career in hair research:

What was it like attending a research conference with so many other hair researchers?

It was an awesome opportunity to not only hear big names in the field give their presentations, but also to discuss my own research with them. For example, Professor Jeff Biernaskie from the University of Calgary, Canada, approached me at the poster presentation and told me he thought my work was really interesting. This was a huge honour, as most of my masters work last year was inspired by output from his lab! It was also nice to get to speak with academics in a social setting, like chatting with Dr Gill Westgate at the gala dinner. Learning about her path through industry and academia was particularly inspiring.

What were your key takeaways from the conference?

I learnt a lot from the conference, but if I had to choose 3 key takeaway they would be:

  1. Network as much as possible. By speaking with as many people as I could I managed to secure future potential research collaborations with researchers, transplant surgeons and trichologists.
  2. Don’t be afraid to showcase your work! People were extremely interested in what I do, and wanted to learn more about it. This gave me a huge confidence boost in the potential impact of my PhD.
  3. Remember to have fun too. I am doing hair research because I love it, so it was great having the opportunity to socialize with others in the same boat.

What motivates you to be involved in hair research?

I have always been interested in biology, but I was never sure exactly which area of biology I wanted to focus on. I studied molecular bioengineering at Imperial College for my undergraduate degree, and during the third year I took on a project under the field of regenerative medicine. This was with Dr Claire Higgins, and the aim of the project was to better characterise differences between frontal and occipital scalp in male androgenetic alopecia (AGA). This is what sparked my interest in the hair follicle itself, as I moved away from the skin and scalp and towards the actual follicle. I then did my masters project looking at intrinsic differences between frontal and occipital follicles in AGA patients, before staying on for my PhD looking at the hair follicle pigmentation unit.

I find the hair follicle a fascinating organ to study as it is the only organ in the human body capable of full regeneration, and I want to learn how we can exploit its regenerative properties to treat diseases such as alopecia.

What is the research you presented about?

The focus of my PhD is on the role of the dermal papilla in human hair fibre pigmentation. The dermal papilla is a population of cells situated at the base of the hair follicle, which are responsible for co-ordinating hair growth. Their role in hair growth is well established, though I hypothesise that they also play a role in regulating hair colour. There have been several reported cases of people experiencing periods of their coloured hair going grey and then becoming coloured again, and no one really understands why this is. I am investigating whether signals from the dermal papilla may explain this phenomenon.

What’s next for your research?

I look forward to continuing my research into the human hair follicle, and hope to contribute substantially to our understanding of the human hair follicle dysfunctions throughout the rest of my career.


PhD student Leah Redmond with Alopecia UK CEO Sue Schilling