In 2018, Alopecia UK held its very first 'Call for Research', offering up two pots of funding for researchers wanting to look at alopecia areata. 

The funding applications were put to Alopecia UK's Research Committee, which held its first committee meeting on 23rd October 2018. At the meeting, the Research Committee chose its winner of the 'Committee's Choice' funding award and created the shortlist of two projects to put to the vote for the 'Patients' Choice'. 

We are delighted to provide details of the two projects that have been successful. We are currently negotiating the final terms and conditions with the winning project leads and hope to have the funds paid across in the new year. We will then add details of both projects to our 'Current Research Projects' page but, for now, here is a short summary of the projects we will be funding: 

Committee's Choice Winner

Title: Characterising the role of antigen presenting cells in Alopecia Areata

Project Lead: Professor Kevin McElwee, Professor of Biomedical Science, Centre for Skin Sciences, University of Bradford

Summary: Alopecia Areata (AA) is an autoimmune hair loss condition that affects men, women and children. It is caused by inflammatory lymphocyte cells inappropriately targeting hair follicles and disrupting their ability to grow hair. What stimulates the lymphocyte cells and promotes the inflammation is not clear, but we believe that "antigen presenting cells" (APCs) are a key part of the biological mechanism that causes AA. Some prior research, from the Centre for Skin Sciences, shows that APCs in patients with AA have high levels of cell receptors that would make them better able to stimulate lymphocytes. In a disease model, we previously showed it was possible to block signalling from APCs and this prevented AA onset. 

In this study, we will look at the APCs in patients in much more detail. We will look at the APCs in AA affected skin to see where they are located and how many are present. We will look for expression of several cell surface molecules that are related to APC activation and presentation of antigen proteins that promote lymphocyte function. We anticipate seeing more APCs in the skin close to hair follicles and we expect the APCs will be actively stimulating lymphocyte cells and helping them to target hair follicles. The data from this study will help us to understand what drives lymphocytes to attack hair follicles in AA. If our hypothesis is correct, it should be possible to develop drug interventions to block APC signalling activity as a new treatment for AA patients. 

Patients' Choice Winner

Title: Coeliac disease and micronutrientdeficiency in alopecia areata: association or coincidence?

Project Lead: Dr Amr Salam, Dermatology Specialist Registrar, St Johns Institute of Dermatology, Guys and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust

Summary: An association between Alopecia Areata (AA) and Coeliac Disease (CD) was first reported in 1995, and since then, although genetic similarities have been identified, a clinical association between these conditions remains undetermined. Furthermore, there is a lack of data on the impact of CD on micronutrient malabsorption and its effect on the hair cycle. 

We aim to explore whether an association exists between CD and AA, and the impact of a gluten-free diet on hair regrowth in these patients, as well as the presence of associated micronutrient deficiencies. 

We aim to conduct a large-scale study which will look at the medical note of all paediatric patients diagnosed with AA (totalis or universalis) who have attended our hair clinic in the last 20 years. Our practice has always been to perform Coeliac screening for children with AA. From this we aim to determine the association between AA and CD in these patients. Using the patients' medical notes we will look at; whether a diagnosis of CD was confirmed by endoscopy, whether a gluten-free diet was established, the impact of any gluten-free diet on hair growth, micronutrient profiles at the time of diagnosis, whether any micronutrient deficiencies were found and if so whether replacement of micronutrients was initiated and if this had an impact on hair growth. 

This study may have implications for the way dermatologists screen patients with AA for autoimmune disorders and micronutrient deficiencies. It may also help to establish if a gluten-free diet and micronutrient replacement would be helpful. 

1 Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals required by your body to maintain optimal health. They are not produced by the body and are derived from diet. Examples of micronutrients include iron, vitamin A, folic acid.