An observational study aiming to investigate whether people with any form of non-scarring hair loss condition have increased levels of a specific protein within their hair follicles compared to control subjects of the same age but without hair loss, is currently recruiting participants.
Volunteers aged 18 to 60 will be drafted from patients seen at Northwestern Memorial Hospital or Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation physicians' offices, which are affiliated to Chicago's Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine where the study will take place.
Researchers will explore the protein PAI-1 and the extent to which it is expressed in test subjects both with and without non-scarring forms of hair loss, including male and female pattern hair loss (androgenetic alopecia), telogen effluvium and the autoimmune condition alopecia areata.
Eleven of the selected participants will have a scalp biopsy using a 4 mm punch, similar to those used in FUE hair transplants. This will allow PAI-1 levels in the scalp's skin tissue to be determined through immunohistochemical staining.
Following each biopsy the sample skin will be formalin-fixed overnight at room temperature, processed and embedded with paraffin. Sections measuring six microns in depth will be prepared and stored at room temperature.
The amount of active PAI-1 in each total tissue area will be measured using imaging software. After this, the levels of PAI-1 found in scalp tissues both with and without hair loss will be recorded and the results compared.
The protein known as PAI-1, or Plasminogen Activator Inhibitor-1, is a serine protease inhibitor (serpin) which is mostly produced in the cells lining the blood vessels. It is critical to the fibrinolytic system and plays an important role in preventing blood clots.
Elevated levels of PAI-1 are found in people who are obese or who have a number of diseases, including various forms of cancer. It has also been linked to patients with these conditions developing thrombosis.
The study's resulting findings could help to not only further understanding of the behaviour of hair follicles, but also aid development of the next generation of hair loss treatments for various conditions.
For instance, should researchers discover higher levels of PAI-1 expression in the follicles of people with hair loss, this could open up a new avenue in the development of future treatments. It will also be interesting to discover if there are significant differences in PAI-1 levels between each of the hair loss conditions - so whether, for example, people with Alopecia Areata have a higher, lower or no meaningful difference in PAI-1 levels when compared to those with genetic hair loss.
This study is due to conclude in December 2016 after which time researchers will analyse the gathered data and release their findings. We will publish these results as soon as they become available so do check back for updates to this story.
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