In 2022, Alopecia UK invited researchers to apply for the first ever Alopecia UK PhD Bursary. This was made possible by a generous legacy donation left to Alopecia UK, which specified that it needed to be used for research into the causes and cures for alopecia areata.

We are now absolutely delighted to share that the winner of this PhD Bursary is the team led by Dr Matthew Harries at the Centre for Dermatology Research, University of Manchester, who work in collaboration with the Salford Care Organisation, part of the Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust.

The bursary of £107,470 will be awarded over a period of three years and will support the research student and cost of materials used on the project. The work undertaken during the PhD studentship will be part of the Inflammatory Hair Disease research programme, which has also received funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). 

Starting in October 2023, the project is titled: The Alopecia Areata Rapid Access Clinic: Can early access improve outcomes in patients with recent-onset alopecia areata?

The Alopecia Areata Rapid Access Clinic (AA-RAC) will recruit people with newly diagnosed alopecia areata to study the early stages of AA. Typically, people who are in this early stage are not offered treatment and told to see if hair grows back naturally or come back if it progresses to a severe state. By the time people do reach a specialist, their disease is chronic and established. In the meantime, their psychological well-being and quality of life have suffered significantly.

Dr Harries’ team will recruit people within 12 months of AA onset (and ideally within 3-6 months), and aim to offer appropriate treatments options alongside a personalised management plan. Patients will speak to a nurse, health psychologist and dermatologist at the start of treatment, and again after 4 and 24 weeks. After this period, they will be referred to hospital dermatology or back to their GP with a care plan. As part of the study, blood samples will be collected to allow the researchers to study risk factors for developing AA, and whether there are any relationships with other diseases. They will also study the levels of certain minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients to establish whether these may be related to the hair loss. In addition, they will collect hair and skin biopsy samples to investigate the activity of molecules and cells involved in immune processes.

By thoroughly screening the participants they also hope to establish whether there are different types of AA: autoimmune AA, people who have a personal or family history of other autoimmune disease, and is therefore the result of immune cells attacking specific ‘autoantigen’ targets in our own hair follicles; or non-autoimmune AA, those with no personal or family history of AA or other autoimmune disease, but with a clear identifiable trigger. Following participation in the study, people will also be asked some questions about the status of their hair loss 12 and 18 months later to get an understanding of how the disease progresses in different people. This will also allow them to work out if any of the markers they measured early on were predictors for the severity of AA and the risk of AA returning in the future.

A member of the Alopecia UK Lay Research Panel who was involved in reviewing this application said:

I think the research project is very worthwhile and will be beneficial for people with AA. Personally, I wonder that, if I had had earlier access to treatment/advice/support, my Alopecia areata would not have progressed to AA universalis. I believe others with Alopecia would also have similar thoughts and would welcome this investigation.


The researchers aim to work with GPs and use the lessons from this research to create a successful model for rapid access to appropriate care for people with new onset AA. In research, it is also important to include participants representative of the population as a whole, so that any results and recommendations can be applied to, and improve outcomes for everyone. The epidemiology paper published by Dr Harries and others in 2021 has shown that AA is more common in people of non-white ethnicity (and Asian in particular) and of low socio-economic status. These groups may also be less likely to have access to specialist care. To reduce this inequality, part of the project will see the researchers work with the Salford Health Improvement Team to improve access for these groups.

Alopecia UK Research Manager, Niels, said:

We are very grateful for the exceptional legacy donation that has made it possible for us to invest into this PhD studentship. The Research Committee and Lay Research Panel were very enthusiastic about this project as it aims to address some of the most pressing concerns that people with AA face.

Capturing what is happening in people with early stage AA is such an important piece of the puzzle that we are still missing. It will go a long way in our understanding of how AA progresses in different people, and will hopefully show us if treating it early can stop it in its tracks.


Please note, although Dr Harries is a member of the Alopecia UK Research Committee, he was not involved in the decision to award this funding, in accordance with our Conflict of Interest Policy.