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Dermatologist strives to stimulate interest in hair, related disorders

Key iconKey Points

  • Vera H. Price, M.D., took an assignment early in her career studying human hair with wool chemists at the USDA
  • Dr. Price is a founding member of the North American Hair Research Society
  • Dr. Price's current research focuses on alopecia areata and cicatricial alopecia

Making a difference

Dr. Price not only works to create opportunities for other researchers; she has contributed to knowledge about hair with her own studies. Her work at the wool lab produced pivotal studies of pili annulati, trichothiodystrophy (she coined the name) and introduced pseudo-pili annulati, and this led to her in-depth description of structural hair shaft anomalies.

In collaboration with top physical chemist Emory Menefee, Ph.D., Dr. Price developed the quantitative measurement of human hair growth using hair weight. This became the gold standard of evaluating efficacy of hair growth-promoting agents before the digital era and showed the impressive effect of minoxidil and finasteride, as well as the lack of efficacy of dozens of other agents.

Dr. Price subsequently described the loose anagen syndrome; conducted human leucocyte antigen (HLA) studies in alopecia areata, which showed that HLA class II alleles define two clinical groups of alopecia areata; studied special aspects of African-American hair; and described the hormonal control of hair follicles in androgenetic alopecia (AGA) and differentiated AGA from senescent (age-related) hair thinning with hormonal studies. She has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles.

Currently, Dr. Price's research focuses on two areas: alopecia areata and cicatricial alopecia. The National Alopecia Areata Registry, funded by the National Institutes of Health since 2001, has collected tissue samples and demographic data at five sites, including UCSF, for the past 11 years. This has culminated in the identification of genes involved in alopecia areata, pivotal work led by Angela Christiano, Ph.D., at Columbia University and published in 2010.

Dr. Price is co-investigator in the molecular study of peroxisome biogenesis and lipid metabolism in the primary cicatricial alopecias under Pratima Karnik, Ph.D., at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. This work has led to the pivotal discovery that hair follicle stem cell-specific PPAR-gamma deletion causes certain scarring alopecias. The project requires a rich source of tissue from patients with cicatricial alopecia, which Dr. Price provides.

A teacher, too

The dermatologist aspires to increase interest and knowledge about hair by adding to the small pool of hair experts in the country and contributing to the teaching of hair biology.

"I feel fortunate to have had a clinical hair research fellowship for the past 11 years — the only fellowship in the U.S.A. that is devoted solely to hair and hair biology — and I hope my protgs will continue to contribute to the field," she says.

Recently, Dr. Price co-authored a book with one of her first fellows, Paradi Mirmirani, M.D., titled Cicatricial Alopecia: An Approach to Diagnosis and Management. The book was expected to hit the market in late April.

"We wrote the detailed and highly illustrated book specifically to teach dermatology residents and interested colleagues about cicatricial alopecia. We have raised private funds to purchase DVD copies of the book and will donate the DVDs to all the current dermatology residents in the U.S. and Canada," she says.

Exciting times

Dr. Price says she sees exciting and revolutionary developments in the field in which she serendipitously landed.

"We are working with stem cells in the hair follicle and forming new hair follicles, contradicting the old dogma that we are born with all our hair follicles and new ones cannot be formed. I think the treatment of hair loss problems will be very different in the next five to 10 years," Dr. Price says.

She encourages young investigators to think seriously about working in hair biology.

"This field is wide open, and an investigator can make a major contribution, perhaps even earn a Nobel prize," she says.

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