UKZN professor tackles hair loss at its roots
Ncoza Dlova has identified a new gene, in African women, that causes Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia
A University of KwaZulu-Natal professor has finally debunked the belief that the hair loss condition Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA) among women of African descent is caused by harsh chemicals and hot brushes used to straighten hair.
Prof Ncoza Dlova, dean of the School of Clinical Medicine, has tackled the root cause of CCCA by identifying a new gene.
“As my career progressed I noticed that we were seeing more patients with hair loss than before. In the 80s hair loss was not even in the top 10 most common dermatology conditions seen in both the public and private sector. However in the past 10 years hair disorders are in the top five most common conditions seen,” said Ncoza.
The seven-year research recruited patients with CCCA from Durban between 2013 and 2016, as well as in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from 2014 to 2017.
Through her global collaborative work with a number of scientists, she found that the gene, peptidylarginine deiminase 3, (PAD13) – which mediates chemical changes proteins may undergo and is essential for proper hair shaft formation – was mutated in the majority of affected patients, suggesting that the disease is genetically diverse.
Research suggests that mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts are increased among alopecia patients.
It was these psychological effects, as well as its prevalence among women of African descent, that motivated Dlova to pursue research on CCCA.
“The psychological and the impact on the quality of life that hair loss has on affected individuals was difficult to ignore. So I made it my business to follow this condition very closely,” she said.
“CCCA is one of the most common causes of permanent hair loss among African females. It therefore made sense that we should be the ones who are working hard to find solutions for our own problems and focus on what we see commonly.”
Dlova first made a breakthrough in 2014 when she published a paper in an American dermatology journal which identified in 15 SA African families the way traits or disorders can be passed down.
It was from there that she collaborated with Prof Eli Sprecher and Offer Sarig from Israel and Prof Amy McMichael from North Carolina University to look for a gene that could be linked to CCCA.
Now Dlova hopes her groundbreaking research will help families who are carriers of the mutations in PAD13, to be more cautious with hair grooming.
She said she was glad she could now tell patients what caused CCCA.
“Prior to this discovery, we used to tell patients that we don’t know what caused the condition and a number of unproven causes have been implicated, for example hot comb use, chemical relaxers and so on.
“Now we can say that the condition is inherited and probably aggravated by external hair grooming factors as mentioned above,” she said.
Dlova said it was too early to say whether testing for CCCA at an early stage was possible, but it was worth following up on.