Following the news that an Alopecia Areata registry has been set up in America, a UK 'biobank' charity initiative has also been announced.
These databases have both been established to help to further studies into this common cause of hair loss. Their aim is to develop safe and effective treatments for all forms of Alopecia Areata, the autoimmune condition which turns the body against the hair follicles, resulting in anything from patchy hair loss to total baldness from head to toe.
Makeup artist Jayne Waddell, who developed Alopecia Totalis 12 years ago, founded the charity Autoimmune Alopecia Research UK (AARUK) in November 2012. This was a reaction to the frustration she experienced at how slow progress was and the apparent lack of priority given into finding effective treatment for Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis.
Talking to the MailOnline, Waddell (pictured right in her wig) explains, "'Since I developed alopecia there's been so much progress in treating auto-immune diseases, including MS and psoriasis as well as rheumatoid arthritis. But not a thing has changed with alopecia. We're all still being referred to a dermatologist, who tells us nothing that can be done."
High strength minoxidil applied topically to the signature bald patches caused by Alopecia Areata in its mild-to-moderate form has often provided promising regrowth results for Belgravia clients. However, this type of Alopecia Areata treatment is not available for the more extreme examples of this condition. Whilst options like immunotherapy exist are sometimes offered by hospitals and dermatologists, the success rates are reportedly no higher than 10 per cent.
Waddell says the charity's mission is to fund medical research into developing treatments for the various types of Alopecia Areata - including these more severe strains. Her long-term goal is to discover preventative treatments as well as a definitive cure for these autoimmune conditions.
Working in partnership with the University of Glasgow, Jayne Waddell, through her charity, is launching an Alopecia Areata Biobank. Almost 300 people with alopecia have already confirmed they would be willing to donate samples, so far. The research facility, which is currently in the process of being crowd-funded, will contain hundreds of blood, tissue and gut bacteria samples, all of which are thought to have a meaningful impact on the body's immune system.
Admitting she is excited by the response, Waddell tells the Mail, "It will mean that any research group that wants to pursue a particular area of investigation can have access to as many individual samples as they need."
Professor McInnes, who is also involved in the project, adds: "At the moment, we don't understand why hair follicles are targeted by the immune system in this way. But the hope is that by analysing the samples in the biobank we will be able to find a drug that will interfere with this process."
Establishing this type of sample bank could benefit not only researcher's understanding of Alopecia Areata but also other autoimmune conditions, such as psoriasis, vitiligo and thyroid disorders. Indeed, clinical trials are currently going on exploring the rheumatoid arthritis drug, Xeljanz (tofacitinib), as a possible treatment for all forms of Alopecia Areata. Its hair regrowth potential was first discovered in 2014 when the drug was administered at Yale University to a man they were treating for plaque psoriasis but who also happened to have Alopecia Universalis. Within the first five months of his treatment the patient regrew a full head of hair despite not having grown any hair for seven years prior. Both rheumatoid arthritis and plaque psoriasis are autoimmune conditions.
Fundraising for the biobank is taking the form of a kickstarter-style crowd-funding campaign. This means members of the public can get involved and help to fund the project in a number of ways, such as buying a t-shirt, completing sponsored activities or donating money directly. More details and information on how to be part of the AARUK project are available from walacea.com/campaigns/alopecia-biobank/.
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