CUMC Professor Discovers Genetic Basis for Hair Loss

CUMC Professor Discovers Genetic Basis for Hair Loss


Despite the fact that many people feel
that hair loss is simply a cosmetic disease, if you look carefully at the literature
on what we call the burden of skin diseases, meaning how much patients are affected
by their given disease, you’ll find that the category of hair diseases
is the most burdensome from the patient’s perspective. The reason for that I think is
because most people have a very strong relationship with their hair
and it in some ways defines their self-image so when that’s threatened or when people feel
not confident about the way they look particularly in children
it has a devastating impact, far more than one would predict
if one was not affected. You probably know that I have
alopecia areata myself, so I learned firsthand what that actually means and that was really
the motivation for us starting these studies in the first place. We believe, and I think many do now,
that until we know the genes that control these different types of hair loss,
that we will not be able to develop what we call rational targets for therapy,
meaning that unless we have a road map of what’s
actually going wrong in the disease how can we strategically block or influence
those different processes in the hair cycle or in hair growth? For years we believed that alopecia areata
would look the most like psoriasis and vitiligo at the gene level
and so because those are other complex diseases in dermatology that that was the assumption
so we’ve always tested psoriasis drugs in alopecia areata because we thought
that was the most sensible thing to do. As it turns out only one or two of our genes
actually overlap with those diseases, so perhaps it’s not surprising that we didn’t
see the kind of benefit that we might have hoped
from those studies. However, the fact that almost all of our genes
align with Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease puts us in wonderful company
because a lot of drug development has gone on
in those diseases that we can really reap the benefits of. A few weeks before our paper came out
I had the opportunity to speak at the annual patient conference
for alopecia areata, and I told them a little bit about the findings
and they know that I’m a patient myself so they give me a standing ovation
at the end of my lecture which has never happened to me before. But the level of emotion about these findings
is very personal to people, to patients, and so we’ve gotten thousands, literally,
of e-mails from people thanking us and just wanting to be part of it
and can we come and be in your clinical trial and it’s something that people care a lot
about and they’ve been waiting a long time I think
to see their disease really come to the forefront of genetics to where it should be today
so for me personally and scientifically that has been unexpected
and tremendously rewarding.

1 Comment

  • Abdulla Noor says:

    Angela, since the day i read about your new discovery with ULBP3, I dont only have hope but truly and deeply I believe in you. Thank you Angela for the hard work you've done so far, Thank you.

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