Genetics of alopecia areata

Alopecia areata (AA) is a common autoimmune disease leading to extensive hair loss in men, women and children. About 640,000 Canadians (one out of 50) will develop AA. There is no cure, and treatment options are minimal. While, in general, the condition is not life threatening, hair loss can be psychologically devastating, particularly for women and children. Using a rat model, Dr. McElwee has identified several areas on chromosomes where genes coding for AA susceptibility are present. Now further work is required to determine the specific genes involved and what they do. Once these genes are identified in the rat model, the next step is a large scale study to identify corresponding genes in AA-affected humans. A more comprehensive understanding of the structure and function of these genes in comparison to corresponding genes in non-affected individuals will lead to a better understanding of how AA develops. In the long run, the goal is to explore the development of treatments which specifically target and ameliorate the affects of underlying genetic flaws that give rise to the disorder.