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  DR ANGELA CHRISTIANO  
 

In June 1998 Dr. Angela Christiano, Assistant Professor of Dermatology, and Genetics and Development, at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons made history when she announced the discovery of the first gene responsible for hair loss named "hairless".

Her team of researchers found the gene responsible for alopecia universalis, a hereditary disorder in which people are born without eyelashes or eyebrows, go bald and never grown any body hair. The researchers studied a Pakistani family suffering from Alopecia Universalis and used their genes to identify a mutation in the hairless gene that was associated with their hair loss. For the first time ever researchers were able to map a human gene for inherited baldness by scanning every human chromosome and localizing this gene onto the short arm of chromosome number eight.

Several months later a second distinct mutation in the hairless gene was identified and linked with a rare, autosomal recessive form of complete hair loss in a large family of Irish Travellers, a nomadic, gypsy-like population that has remained reproductively isolated for centuries in Ireland. Affected individuals have no head or body hair and also have no eyelashes or eyebrow hair. Based on their research, Dr Christiano believes that the hairless gene appears to function at the cellular transition from natal hair to the first adult hair cycle, and, if compromised, hair growth completely ceases and new hair is never induced, and the result is a complete form of inherited baldness.

According to Dr Christiano this finding is the first indication that we may be able to regulate the hair growth cycle, trigger the growth of new hair and possibly treat hair loss through gene therapy administered topically via the hair follicles. Some companies have already been developing means to deliver gene therapy to the follicles, but the major limitation has been the discovery of an actual gene that causes Male Pattern Hair Loss. Since Male Pattern loss has different causes to Alopecia Areata and Universalis which are thought to be autoimmune disorders, its unknown whether a gene for this will ever be able to be discovered.

What is for certain is that gene therapy and the recent mapping of the human genome will change the way hair loss treatments are developmed in the near future.

A member of the Pakistani family who suffers from the rare form of Alopecia Universalis
 
 
   
 
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