Alopecia UK attended the 11th World Congress for Hair Research (WCHR) in Sitges, Nr Barcelona (Spain) at the end of April. The charity team in attendance was Jen (Charity Development Manager), Amy (Communications Manager) and Simon (Chair of Trustees).

This year’s event was the third WCHR that Alopecia UK has attended, following our visits to Edinburgh in 2013 and Miami in 2015. The event brings together the leading hair researchers from all around the world. Hair loss features prominently at WCHR, as does the science of hair as a whole.

Over 200 talks were given and over 200 scientific posters displayed, covering a wide range of topics. This included 27 posters and a similar number of talks detailing research taking place into Alopecia Areata, over 40 posters and talks about Scarring Alopecias (including 20 specifically about Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia) and 22 talks and 37 posters about Androgenetic Alopecia. 

There was much talk at the event about the ongoing trials which are exploring the use of a type of drug called Janus Kinase Inhibitors or ‘JAK inhibitors’ for the treatment of Alopecia Areata. Two pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Concert, presented their findings at the Congress. Details of these drugs have been featured in the British press over the past few years and there has been much interest from people contacting Alopecia UK wanting to know if trials will ever be taking place in the UK.

From conversations that we had at the Congress, there is a definite interest from pharmaceutical companies to bring clinical trials to Europe, including the UK. Before any trials can take place in the UK, the pharmaceutical companies will need to get the appropriate approvals from regulatory bodies. Suitable sites for the clinical trials to take place at will also need to be found. Typically these sites will be set up within NHS clinics with dermatologists with specialisms in hair loss. Alopecia UK hopes to be kept informed of any UK clinical trial activity and we will continue to watch with interest.

We were interested to learn from the trial data presented that some patients in the US have been on the JAK inhibitor drugs for 4 years now. One of the unknowns about these drugs has been the potential long-term effects of taking them. Again, we watch with interest as this is monitored and documented. The other thing to note is that whilst many trial participants have experienced regrowth whilst taking the JAK inhibitor drugs, some have not. Researchers hope that as the work continues, the drugs will be able to be fine-tuned for the treatment of Alopecia Areata.

We also discussed the cost of JAK inhibitor drugs with researchers and pharmaceutical companies. The cost of Tofacitinib is $25,000 a year and Ruxolitinib is $100,000. The cost of the drugs was agreed to be a challenge. In the UK, the NHS would be required to foot the bill. However, in the USA, insurance companies have been paying out for the drugs. It is early days with talk of the use of JAK inhibitors for Alopecia Areata in the UK and it was pointed out to us that the cost of the drugs should come down as time goes on. It was also recognised that there will need to be further psychosocial research that demonstrates the psychological impact that alopecia can have and the difference to quality of life that drugs treating Alopecia Areata could therefore make.

Amy volunteered her patchy head to some clinicians wishing to try out a new piece of software that records the severity of hair loss in Alopecia Areata. ALODEX breaks the scalp down into a 100 sections and doctors need to grade the hair density in each section to come up with a total hair loss percentage.

We were very lucky to bump into old acquaintances at the Congress including Professor Andrew Messenger, Professor Des Tobin, Professor Gill Westgate, Dr Matthew Harries, Dr Sharon Wong, Dr Anita Takwale and Dr Vicky Jolliffe and others. We don’t often have the opportunity for face to face chats with those who we know are working hard for those with alopecia so it was great to be able to do just that!

We also caught up with Kym Bain who is the PhD student at the University of Glasgow whose project utilises the alopecia biobank that we support. She presented some of her findings to the Congress and we were delighted to see Alopecia UK’s logo featured on her slides in recognition for the funding that the charity has provided to her work. 

As ever, we were delighted to be able to chat to Dr Angela Christiano (pictured to the right between Amy and Kym Bain), who is one of the leading researchers working with JAK inhibitors and a researcher responsible for many significant breakthroughs regarding alopecia areata over the years. We were interested to learn that Angela’s lab is now starting to explore whether the microbiome plays a role for those with Alopecia Areata.

Our stand at the Congress was next to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation from the USA. We met with members of their team Dory Kranz (President and CEO), Abby Ellison (Research Director) and Natasha Mesinkovska (Chief Scientific Officer). We had the pleasure of joining them for dinner which allowed us an opportunity to talk about the two charities and potential ways we can learn from and work with each other.

In addition, we were also joined on our stand by Julia from ‘A Pelo’, a Spanish alopecia group in its infancy. Julia was joined by fellow group members Lidia, Nuria and Mari Carmen. We first met Julia and Lidia at our Big Weekend event in Birmingham in 2017 and we were delighted to learn that a Spanish contingent will be joining us again in Bristol later this year. We also met Ruta from the National Alopecia Association of Lithuania. Ruta is a psychologist and was presenting a study she has undertaken. 

Alopecia UK is hoping to arrange a meeting for European alopecia organisations at the European Hair Research Society (EHRS) meeting in Sheffield in 2020. We want to explore if there is more we can do together regarding alopecia research. We hope to see our new friends from Spain and Lithuania there as well as others from alopecia organisations in Europe. The EHRS is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and is one of five existing hair societies across the globe – Europe, America, Australasia, Japan and Korea. Interestingly, and hopefully excitingly for hair loss research, five is about to become seven! At the Congress gala dinner, it was confirmed that Russia and China now have their own hair research societies and will be . We expect this will lead to even more hair loss research taking place across the world which is an exciting thought.

Click here to review the daily summaries from WCHR 2019

Overall we’ve come away from WCHR feeling very enthused!  There is a definite buzz in the air with regards to progression of alopecia research across the globe.  It is also nice that Alopecia UK is able to engage within these networks and identify workstreams whereby we can contribute to the further development and advancement of research.  To ensure Alopecia UK can continue to not only engage with but also progress research further forwards please do consider donating to Alopecia UK today to help support our work.

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