The internationally renowned Dean of Clinical Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has earned worldwide praise after discovering a gene that is a major cause of permanent hair loss among black women.
The acclaimed dermatologist, Professor Ncoza Dlova collaborated with scientists in the US to discover the root cause of Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA), one of the most common causes of scarring alopecia amongst African women.
CCCA is defined as hair loss or spot balding that starts from the central (crown) part of the scalp and radiates outward in a circular pattern. It causes the destruction of hair follicles leading to scarring and permanent hair loss.
The root cause of this condition has always been a mystery and alluded to the use of damaging chemical products on the hair as well as the application of heat brushes, hot combs or straighteners.
Dlova said this would have huge implications for diagnosis, prevention and treating the condition.
“This is probably the biggest breakthrough in South African Dermatology,” she said in a statement.
“This discovery is a first in the world, and it followed links to my earlier publication of 2013, in which I reported for the first time a familial association in a cluster of black South African families with CCCA and have been following the 15 families for five years, and seven years later a gene has been identified.”
According to UKZN, patients with CCCA were recruited from Durban, South Africa, from 2013 through 2016 and in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from 2014 through 2017.
This study found that the gene, peptidylarginine deiminase 3, (PAD13); which mediates posttranslational modification of proteins essential for proper hair shaft formation was mutated in many affected patients suggesting that the disease is genetically heterogeneous.
The scientists also found that the distinct variants in PADI3 in each of the disorders may account for the difference in clinical outcomes.
So, what can we learn from these research findings?
The results suggest that PADI3 mutations predispose individuals to CCCA and this presents or is triggered by environmental factors like damaging hair grooming practices like use of hair chemicals, traction, heat, braids, and weaves.
This implies that in affected families, the above-mentioned practices should be totally discouraged. Larger studies are still needed in order to justify genotyping of asymptomatic women.
Research suggests that PAD13 mutations predispose individuals to CCCA and this presents or is triggered by environmental factors, like damaging hair grooming practices – the use of chemicals, traction, heat, braids, and weaves.
This implies that in affected families, the above-mentioned practices should be totally discouraged. Larger studies are still needed in order to justify the genotyping of asymptomatic women.
Dloza lauded the support she received from her colleagues for the discovery.
“None of this would have been possible without the families and our patients showing the will to participate in our research endeavours,” she added.”
“I am also grateful to my local and international colleagues for working with me and this is indeed testimony to the power of diversity in research.”