Alopecia UK (AAR-UK at time of donation) funds invested:  £20,000

When:  March 2017 - present

Project type:  Biobank

Project Lead:  Professor Simon Milling

Length of project:  5 years

Research Institute: University of Glasgow

Condition of interest:  Alopecia areata (including totalis and universalis). Samples are collected from people without alopecia, for comparison.

Funds being used for:  Research Nurse to collect biopsies and blood samples for alopecia studies

Research Aims:

A biobank is a collection of samples of bodily fluid or tissue. The samples can be used by researchers to study a particular condition. Other information, such as height, weight and questions about things that may have a bearing on health (e.g. family history and lifestyle) may also be recorded at the same time, to provide the context for the samples. Often the samples are kept indefinitely or for several years, depending on the study, so that long term future research can be carried.

Autoimmune Alopecia Research UK (AAR-UK) created the first alopecia areata biobank in the UK. To establish this resource, AAR-UK’s founder Jayne Waddell organised a meeting with Professor Iain McInnes from Glasgow University with a view to finding the best way to proceed for the biobank to be viable. An AAR-UK crowd funding campaign then followed, which raised the £20,000 that was required to pay for the clinic to collect the samples.  

Nicola McBride (AAR-UK Research Co-ordinator) worked closely with Simon Milling and Kym Bain from Glasgow University to set up the clinic for the biobank samples. In collaboration with dermatologist Susan Holmes, they secured the necessary ethical approval and developed the questionnaires required for the participants to complete at the clinic. They also put provisions in place to safeguard the samples and ensure that participant’s personal information is protected. 

The Biobank:

The clinic has been running for five years and takes place once a week on a Monday afternoon, usually at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.  Volunteers from the Glasgow area can contact the Research Nurse by e-mail to arrange an appointment.  At the clinic, the Research Nurse obtains patient consent, completes the questionnaires with participants to get a detailed history, and collects blood and tissue samples, giving the participant the home kit for stool samples to be handed back into the clinic.  The samples are then stored within the biobank at the University of Glasgow.

Participants are offered the opportunity to provide blood samples, skin swabs, skin biopsies and stool samples. The biobank was set up in conjunction with Glasgow University student, Kym Bain’s PhD project, which looks at the pathogenesis of alopecia areata and the potential link to intestinal inflammation.  Kym's project is funded by Medical Research Scotland and has industry funding from pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca.  The project supervisors are Professor Simon Milling and Professor Iain McInnes (from Glasgow University) and Annika Ȧstrand (from AstraZeneca). 

Interested scientists can apply for access to samples from the biobank by contacting Professor Milling at the University of Glasgow. Potential participants from the Glasgow area can find more details about the study here.

Updates from the Biobank:

To date, over 120 people have kindly donated samples to the Biobank, which is fantastic. Kym writes regular blog posts for us, to keep us updated on the outcomes of her research project using samples from the Biobank. These are available here:

Time for T-cells (November 2018)

Making sense of molecules (June 2019)

Alopecia Biobank 4 years on (February 2021)

Research update from Glasgow (November 2022)

Research Outcomes:

Kym published a paper in the British Journal of Dermatology, titled:'Alopecia areata is characterized by dysregulation in systemic type 17 and type 2 cytokines, which may contribute to disease-associated psychological morbidity'. A plain English summary of this paper is available here.

She recently published a second paper on her work done with samples from the Biobank in the Journal Clinical and Experimental Immunology, titled: 'Stratification of alopecia areata reveals involvement of CD4 T cell populations and altered faecal microbiota'.