Alopecia UK funds invested: £18,500 

When:  September 2021

Project type:  Immunology and biochemistry laboratory studies

Project Lead:  Dr Shahnawaz Jadeja

Length of project: 22 months

Research Institute: Charles Institute of Dermatology, University College Dublin

Condition of interest:  Alopecia Areata

Funds being used for:  Laboratory chemicals and materials (consumables) and access to equipment and facilities

Research question: 

Does the protein trichohyalin, which is known to undergo chemical modification  in the growing  hair follicle, trigger and/or enhance the autoimmune attack on hair follicles in alopecia areata?

Justification for research project: 

In their previous studies, Professor Desmond Tobin and his team found that patients with alopecia areata had circulating antibodies in their blood that could latch onto a protein called Trichohyalin (TCHH), which is normally found in the growing hair follicle. Because antibodies are normally made when the immune system reacts to destroy something, and alopecia areata is  presumed to be an autoimmune condition, they wondered if this was a sign that TCHH is a target for the autoimmune attack on hair follicles in these patients. This new project funded by Alopecia UK, aims to investigate this question more closely. Shahnawaz and Desmond will work with collaborator Dr Dmitri Wall, a dermatologist who runs a specialist hair clinic in Dublin, to invite patients with alopecia areata to donate samples of skin and blood for examination.

TCHH is one of the earliest proteins to form in the hair follicle when it starts to grow new hair, during which TCHH  naturally undergoes certain chemical changes known as citrullination and deamidation. The team know already that similar chemical changes to different proteins can provoke immune responses in people who are genetically prone to developing  autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and coeliac disease. They suspect that such chemical alterations to TCHH may make it more ‘visible’ to the immune system and as a result, could provoke an immune attack on hair follicles. The team will look at small segments of TCHH to investigate which parts of the protein, and which particular chemical changes, are recognised not only by patient antibodies but also by the cells of the immune system, and whether there are differences between people with alopecia areata and healthy ‘control’ volunteers. The project also involves getting access to expensive equipment for doing an analytical technique of mass spectrometry, which can detect individual changes in proteins like TCHH.

The team hope that this work will help to pinpoint more precisely what is triggering or aggravating the autoimmune response in alopecia areata. If they succeed, the results could pave a way for the development of a new approach to treating alopecia areata, involving re-training immune cells to ignore the chemical triggers that would otherwise provoke inflammation.

Who is leading the project: 

Dr Shahnawaz Jadeja is a postdoctoral scientist, working in the laboratory of  Professor Desmond Tobin, a researcher specialising in skin science, at the Charles Institute of  Dermatology, University College Dublin. Shahnawaz is originally from India and has previously done research on another autoimmune skin condition, vitiligo. He brings experience of many different techniques to the current study of alopecia areata.