Australian Hair & Scalp Foundation

Hair biology research

The hair follicle is a complete organ in itself. It is an ideal model for investigation of a variety of complex biological phenomenon including organ regeneration and stem cell biology.

The hair follicle also has a complex immunology with low or absent expression of HLA A,B,C and D and increased expression of HLA G. The AHSF is currently investigating expression of HLA E and F.

Many single gene disorders have a hair phenotype and we have used our clinical expertise to recruit families for a gene linkage project, identifying gene loci, genes or mutations for pili annulati, monilethrix, hereditary hypotrichosis and papular atrichia.

We are currently investigating a large family in Tasmania where  37 members are affected with monilethrix.

We are also investigating the genetics of androgenetic alopecia (common baldness) and have recently identified genes associated with female balding.

We have recent demonstrated the reduced risk of baldness among men with Kennedy Disease, a neurological disorder characterised by androgen receptor gene abnormalities and gynaecomastia.

Together with the twin registry we have shown that the presence and severity of baldness is strongly concordant among monozygotic (identical) twins, but not fraternal twins. 

Our laboratory research led by Dr Nick Rufaut involves isolation and cell culture of stem cells from hair follicles. We are investigating the potential of these cells to home at sites of tissue injury and then participate in wound repair.  We are also investigating the potential of these cells as precursor cells for tissue engineering. These cells have already been shown to be capable of reconstituting bone marrow following intravascular injection and also to produce epidermis, adipose tissue and nerve. We are particualrly interested in heart muscle and pancreatic islet cell regeneration

We expect to clone hair follicles in the near future. The unique immunology of hair follicles may enable recipient tolerance of HLA mis-matched donor follicles. This tolerance has already been demonstrated to a limited degree in human and xenograft studies. Cell fusion techniques may enable the implanted hair follicles to be used for cell therapy to correct a variety of deficiency states, rather than merely for hair replacement.