NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

Dermatology researcher receives British Skin Foundation grant for national alopecia research

A BRC Dermatology Theme researcher has been awarded a £81,000 grant from the British Skin Foundation charity to support research into the skin condition Alopecia Areata.


Dr Matthew Harries

Dr Matthew Harries

Dr Matthew Harries is a Consultant Dermatologist at Salford Royal Hospital – part of Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust – which is a member of Manchester BRC. Dr Harries is a researcher within our Dermatology Theme’s Inflammatory Hair Diseases programme, focussing primarily on Alopecia Areata.

Alopecia Areata (AA) explained

AA often starts with isolated patches of hair loss – often one or more coin-sized patches on the scalp but can also affect other patches of hair across the body, including the beard, eyebrows, eyelashes, and pubic hair.

This happens when cells from the immune system (a specific type of T cell known as NKG2D+ T cells) gather around and attack the hair follicles – causing inflammation and stopping them from producing hair. However, the exact cause of why this happens is not yet fully understood. While some patients’ hair will regrow – usually those who lose only small patches of hair – others can lose suffer further attacks of alopecia or even lose all of their hair, which can have a massive impact on their confidence and quality of life.

Treatment options

Drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors are starting to be used to treat this condition, and work by suppressing the immune response associated with AA. However, these treatments are not yet licensed for AA in the UK but hopefully will be available on the NHS soon. Therefore, his is an exciting time in AA research as prior to this development there had not been any new treatment options for several decades.

Funding award

The British Skin Foundation grant – awarded through The University of Manchester to Dr Harries and his colleague Dr Neki Meah (St Helens Hospital) – will be used to help create a UK database (called a registry) of AA patients to help inform future research and compare how patients respond to different drug treatments. Particularly, they will look at the safety of these new treatments as they are introduced into the UK market.

Salford Royal Hospital will be one of three UK pilot sites for the registry, which will be part of a global collaboration, Global Registry of Alopecia areata disease Severity and treatment Safety (GRASS) International.

Dr Harries, who is also Honorary Senior Lecturer at The University of Manchester said:

“The current evidence-base for therapeutic decision making is poor. However, there is now growing interest from industry in AA treatment, predominantly through development of various Janus kinase inhibitors.

“Therefore, comparative analysis of these emerging, high-cost drugs with existing therapies is needed to capture real-world data to assess post-marketing safety and effectiveness.”

Visit our Dermatology Theme webpage for more information on this type of research.