When many people first notice that they are losing their hair they feel powerless to stop it and eventually resign themselves to their condition. But when Angela Christiano’s hair started falling out in clumps and she was subsequently diagnosed with Alopecia, she chose to tackle the disease head on.
As an associate professor in Dermatology and Genetics at New York’s Columbia University, Ms Christiano was ideally positioned to take a stand against the hairloss condition.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, she revealed that after the initial shock of losing her hair had subsided, she began reading everything she could about Alopecia. “In my training nobody had talked much about hair,” Ms Christiano said. “I thought maybe the reason was because it had all been figured out. When I started digging, I saw the opposite was true. I thought, ‘maybe this is the hand of fate directing me to a topic. This is a wide-open field’.”
And while her research has helped Ms Christiano to deal with Alopecia on her own terms, it may also one day lead to new hair loss treatments.
Genetic research into hair loss
The research begun by Ms Christiano’s team in 2008 used an unprecedented genetic approach to studying the hair loss condition, examining the DNA of 1,000 Alopecia sufferers and an equal number of control subjects with no history of Alopecia. Last year they revealed their findings.
The research pinpointed for the first time 139 common genetic ‘markers’ present in those subjects with Alopecia. Furthermore they found that the condition shares many genes in common with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Coeliac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes, and comparatively few with the autoimmune skin disorders that had previously been closely linked with it.
Treatments for Alopecia
Ms Christiano now hopes that the research will lead to the development of new treatments for Alopecia, with the possibility of utilising drugs which have already been approved for treatment of these other diseases with which Alopecia is genetically linked: “Based on the overlapping genetics, we have a chance of pushing forward with clinical trials for potentially effective drugs much sooner than we’d thought,” she told The New York Times.
Belgravia frequently treats the earlier stages of Alopecia Areata with success, growing back patches of hair loss in many cases, but unfortunately for the more serious forms of Alopecia Areata, such as Universalis or Totalis, hair growth success is less likely.
Ms Christiano went on to say that her own personal experience with Alopecia had greatly influenced these discoveries: “Without it, a serious geneticist might never have given their attention to what was thought of as a cosmetic disease.”