Expert Speakers

Dr Leila Asfour MBChB BSc MRCP (Derm)

Professor of Immunology Simon Milling (Chair of the Alopecia UK Research Committee)

Dr Leila Asfour is a UK-trained Consultant dermatologist who completed her postgraduate training in Manchester and London. Her interest in hair disorders has evolved during her experience in a regional specialist hair clinic led by Dr Harries and her work in Professor Paus' hair biology laboratory at the University of Manchester. She has recently completed an international Hair and scalp disorders fellowship under the mentorship of Professor Sinclair in Melbourne, Australia. 

She has been awarded a British Skin Foundation research grant for her project on chemotherapy-induced alopecia. She sits on the panel updating the British Association of Dermatologists' (BAD) Alopecia Areata guidelines. She has presented nationally and internationally and has received several national awards for her presentations and written work. 

Simon received his PhD in Immunology in 1996 from Imperial College, London. He then worked as a researcher in Philadelphia and Oxford. Simon took up a position as a lecturer in Immunology in Glasgow in 2007.

The work in his lab focuses on two areas, both involving the immunology of the intestine: basic studies of the functions of dendritic cells in controlling healthy intestinal immune responses and more applied projects to understand potentially intestine-related inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.

Trichologist Iain Sallis

Dr. Claire Higgins (Derm)

Iain Sallis has been a practicing Trichologist for over 20 years, he runs 8 clinics throughout the UK and much of his work is focused on helping suffered with Alopecia, Iain advised "Trichologists therapeutically cannot do much for Alopecia, but where we can help is catching the people who fall between the cracks between there GP and the dermatologist, most of my alopecia patients have been to see their Gp and are exasperated by the response they received, or are stressed by the amount of time they need to wait to see a dermatologist. My patients have been given misinformation by Dr Google or dismissed by their family doctor, they feel they have no where to turn to as in this country picking up a phone and speaking to a dermatologist is largely impossible….I can assist by ensuring their GP understands what can be done and what is in their remit to do, what can affect Alopecia and help eliminate as many variables than may be an exacerbating factor as possible".

Dr. Claire Higgins was appointed as a Lecturer in the Department of Bioengineering in April 2014.  She joined Imperial after postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Prof. Angela Christiano, in the Department of Dermatology, at Columbia University in New York.  At Columbia she received a Career Development Award from the Dermatology Foundation to research the 'Molecular basis of human hair follicle induction'.  Claire obtained a Ph.D. in Skin Developmental Biology from Durham University in 2007, and holds a B.Sc. in Natural Sciences. 

Dr. Fabio Zucchelli

Dr. Maia Thornton

Dr. Fabio Zucchelli is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Appearance Research at UWE Bristol. In this role over the past few years, he has worked with Alopecia UK on a number of research projects focused on the social and psychological experience of living with alopecia. Studies included a survey investigating people’s experiences of NHS services related to their alopecia, and men’s experiences of living with alopecia. He is currently working in collaboration with Alopecia UK to quantify the social and economic impact of alopecia for affected individuals.

Maia Thornton is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Appearance Research. Her work is focused on the experience and psychosocial impact of living with appearance-affecting conditions or injuries. Maia has a particular interest in developing evidence-based interventions to support psychosocial adjustment. Maia has worked with Alopecia UK in the past on several projects. This has included the development of support materials for parents and carers of children with a visible difference and developing support for adults with a visible difference, focussed specifically on intimacy and romantic relationships.

Professor of Dermatological Science, Des Tobin (Derm)

Dr. Niels Bootsma

Dr Desmond J. Tobin is Full Professor of Dermatological Science and Director of The Charles Institute of Dermatology at the UCD School of Medicine, Dublin, Ireland, EU. 

He researches in basic and applied skin/hair sciences, with a focus on skin/hair pigmentation in health and disease (incl. melanoma) and on hair growth disorders, especially alopecia areata – the focus of his own PhD project and postdoctoral work. Des is Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists, Royal Society of Biology, Institute of Trichologists, Royal Microscopical Society, Institute of Biomedical Science, and Member of the Royal Irish Academy. He is immediate past president of the British Society for Investigative Dermatology. Des serves(ed) on several editorial boards, scientific advisory panels including UK-based Research Excellence Framework (REF2021). He has published over 200 publications, incl. 3 books.

At the Big Weekend, Des will be sharing his knowledge of JAK inhibitors, and supporting our Expert Panel discussions.

Niels Bootsma received his PhD from the University of Stirling in 2022, where he was part of the Physiology, Exercise and Nutrition Research Group. His work was focused on omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (commonly called ‘fish oils’) and how these influence our body composition and muscle function. Since October 2022, he is the Research and Liaison Manager at Alopecia UK. Here he manages AUK’s grant funding processes, relationships with researchers and partnerships, involvement of people with alopecia in research, and communications between the scientific world and the alopecia community.  

Over the Big Weekend, Niels will be using his expertise to support our Gut Health and Nutrition session.

Zoë Passam

Dr Anita Takwale

Zoë Passam has worked at the Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic since 2004, qualifying with the Institute of Trichologists with Distinction in 2008, and receiving the John Mason Memorial Award for Excellence. Zoë is frequently asked to present at major Dermatology and Trichology conferences, on all matters relating to the hair and scalp. Furthermore, Zoë is also a director and course writer for the College of Trichological Science and Practice, which she helped to establish in 2020.

Dr Anita Takwale has been a Consultant Dermatologist and Hair specialist since 2008. She is the President of the British Hair and Nail Society and the Head of the Gloucestershire Dermatology department. She leads the specialist Hair service at Gloucester which receives tertiary referrals from the Midlands and the South West region of U.K. 

She has gained an international perspective on hair related problems through her sabbatical with Professor Rodney Sinclair (Melbourne).

Dr Takwale has numerous publications, is keen on education and has been an invited speaker for multiple national and international events.

Dr Susan Holmes

Professor Andrew Messenger


Dr Susan Holmes is a Consultant Dermatologist working in Glasgow, and Honorary Clinical Associate Professor, University of Glasgow. She has a specialist interest in alopecia and has been running a hair loss clinic in Glasgow for more than 20 years. She is actively involved in alopecia research, including clinical trials of JAKI for alopecia areata. She is a founder member and former Secretary of the British Hair and Nail Society (BHNS). She has spoken previously at the AUK Big Weekend in Glasgow and participated in the Alopecia Priority Setting Partnership in 2014/5. She is a co-author of the chapter on Acquired Disorders of Hair in the forthcoming 10th Edition of Rook Textbook of Dermatology and is part of the British Association of Dermatologists Alopecia Areata Guideline Development Group. She has been invited to speak on alopecia at local, national and international meetings.

Professor Messenger is a semi-retired clinical dermatologist. He has had a clinical and research interest in hair disease for many years, including alopecia areata, female pattern hair loss and frontal fibrosing alopecia. Andrew was president of the European Hair Research Society 2004-6, of the North of England Dermatological Society 2008-9 and has been president of the Institute of Trichologists since 2009. Andrew was also Chair of the 7th World Congress for Hair Research in 2013.

Professor Messenger will be sharing information on his work into Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia research. He will also join our panel of experts.

'Alopecia My Way Session' Personal Experiences Speakers

Serica McLean

Georgina Probert

My name is Serica, and I have Lichen Planopilaris which is a type of scarring alopecia. I choose to shave my head to take back control of a condition that is so progressive and slow.

There is no right time to accept losing your hair, but the grief will eventually subside.

I'm looking forward to sharing my story with you at the Big Weekend.

My name is Georgina and I have had androgenetic alopecia (also known as female pattern baldness) for the past 15 years. This means my hair has been slowly getting thinner – particularly around the hairline, parting and crown. The thinning also got significantly worse after having both of my daughters and the hair I lost during these sheds did not return. 

I have been wearing toppers (and sometimes wigs) full-time for the past five years and I now run a business called Her Hair My Head that helps other women with hair loss.

Susan Jarah

Laura Mathias

My name is Susan I have a biopsy proven diagnosis of Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia.

The past 11 years have been quite a journey - from total devastation to acceptance (of sorts).

Initially I turned to wigs and then a hair replacement system before finally ditching everything in favour of a bald head around 5 years ago.

I’m still on that journey and look forward to sharing it with you at The Big Weekend.

My name is Laura and I have Alopecia Universalis. 

I was 13 years old when my hairdresser found a small bald patch on my scalp. The patches soon spread and, after months of hiding away and refusing to go to school, I I decided to shave my head, get a wig and get back to living my life. But life wasn't the same - I wore an oversized wig which aggravated my eczema for over 17 years, terrified to be seen without it.

During lockdown, I was relieved to have a break from the long days of wearing my wig and drawing on my eyebrows to go into the office. I started connecting with others in the hair loss community on social media and was soon challenging myself to attend events and tasks without disguising my hair loss.

I’m now a passionate advocate for living well with a 'visible difference' like hair loss, using my skills as a Communications Manager to share my story with the media and work with the Alopecia UK Youth Voice Board.

Tom Spencer

My name is Tom, and I have alopecia universalis.

I was 17 years old when I lost my hair and have had AU ever since.

I first got involved with the charity by participating in half marathons to help raise money and ever since then I have been fortunate to do lots more work with the charity.

I looking forward to sharing more of my journey with you at the Big Weekend.