It’s been a few years since the last British Hair and Nails Society research meeting. At that first meeting we discussed the important steps to move things forward in the UK and one of the outputs of that meeting was a research prioritisation process. Three years later and with a lot of hard work, that process is complete and it was great to have Abby Macbeth share the top 10 research priorities for both Alopecia Areata and other types of hair loss. After her presentation we had a table discussion about how we can take some of these ideas forward and these sorts of meetings are essential to get clinicians, researchers, and support groups together. We probably could have spent the whole day discussing ideas – there is no lack of ambition and no end of problems to try and solve. Often the missing part of the equation is money and it was great to hear that Alopecia UK are looking to create some annual research awards for dedicated hair research. Research into hair loss conditions often lose out to cancer projects or some of the more common dermatological conditions like psoriasis so hopefully this will redress the balance.
Guest speakers included Des Tobin, giving a fascinating insight into the evolution of hair gene traits and why different types of hair (eg curly vs straight, dark vs light) develop depending on temperature and environment; Regina Betz gave two talks looking at searching for genes in rare hair conditions (including the story of how my two cases of uncombable hair led to a 3 year project which has now identified the gene behind the condition) and what we know about the genetics of female pattern hair loss – clearly more work to be done on this!; Claire Higgins, my academic partner at Imperial, gave a wonderful talk on the dermal papilla (DP) and how understanding the control of the DP during the hair cycle and recreating an optimum environment for the DP to grow, could lead to a cure for balding in the future; We had a couple of talks on alopecia areata, looking at both the immunology and effect on the Brain with a functional MRI study – I’m sure we will hear more about this; Lastly, we had a very thought provoking talk about the role of psychological intervention, such as mindfulness, and how this can significantly help people to cope with the disease, even if didn’t have any impact on hair regrowth. We are all too aware of how limited conventional medicine is in dealing with hair loss and looking at other aspects of living with the disease, such as the psychological impact, are too often ignored and this needs to change.