Researchers develop a molecular taxonomy for hair disorders

November 27, 2017, Columbia University

Two decades ago, oncologists realized that molecular biologists could see medically important differences between tumors that looked identical to pathologists. Molecular biologists could read information in the genome to improve the precision of diagnoses, guide treatment strategies, and improve health outcomes.

Now, a research team from Columbia University has taken the first steps toward bringing such a genomic strategy into dermatology.

Their findings, reported in the Nov. 24 issue of Scientific Reports, represents an initial step towards developing a molecular taxonomy for disorders. The taxonomy will be useful for diagnostic sequencing of patients with diseases affecting their hair follicles. It will also improve the characterization of hair follicle biology and pave the way for new precision medicine treatments for hair diseases.

"Genome sequencing is changing the nature of disease diagnosis, and we saw an opportunity with rare hair diseases, since these disorders tend to be poorly annotated in catalogs of genetic diseases," says Lynn Petukhova, an assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at the College of Physicians & Surgeons and an affiliate of the Data Science Institute, where she's a member of the Health Analytics Group. "We thus started to organize genetic data for diagnostic sequencing in patients with rare diseases involving hair and were excited by what we discovered."

The research team is comprised of Columbia researchers from the Department of Dermatology at the College of Physicians & Surgeons; the Data Science Institute; the Department of Biostatistics, Mailman School of Public Health; and the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School.

After sifting through several databases the team found more than 600 genes, Petukhova said. Once the team saw all that data, they realized they had an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the biology that helps maintain a healthy hair follicle.

The team then mined more databases to understand relationships among the genes, collecting data about how the genes function in cells and tissues.In the end, they identified nearly 5,000 biological terms shared by groups of hair genes, amassing a matrix of more than three million data points. Andreas Mueller, a lecturer at the Data Science Institute, guided the team's analysis of the , helping them to understand the underlying causal structure of hair disorders. The researchers discovered that the 684 genes could be grouped into 35 clusters based on their molecular functions. And these genetically-derived biological modules provided a foundation for the development of the new hair-disease taxonomy.

Disease classification symptoms have historically been based solely on disease symptoms. And oncologists have shown that incorporating molecular data into diagnostic algorithms helps to provide better care for cancer patients. Now, the same hope holds forth for the field of dermatology, Petukhova says.

"We felt that big data and data science could be used to gain a deeper understanding of the biology that renders hair susceptible to ," says Petukhova. "And it's our hope that this new taxonomy will help scientists, doctors and researchers develop precision-medicine treatments for people with hair disorders."

Explore further: Study explores the seasonality of hair loss

Related Stories

Study explores the seasonality of hair loss

October 24, 2017
A new British Journal of Dermatology study explores the relationship between seasonality and hair loss at a population level using Google Trends data. Across all eight countries analyzed in the study, summer and fall were ...

Scientists find skin cells at the root of balding, gray hair

May 8, 2017
UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have identified the cells that directly give rise to hair as well as the mechanism that causes hair to turn gray – findings that could one day help identify possible treatments ...

Now is the time for dermatologists to learn genomics

May 8, 2017
Dermatologists may need to look further than red hair and freckles when identifying patients who might be genetically predisposed to skin cancer.

Scientists obtain 'how to' guide for producing hair follicles

August 12, 2017
How does the skin develop follicles and eventually sprout hair? A USC-led study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), addresses this question using insights gleaned from organoids, 3D assemblies ...

Researchers identify 'signal' crucial to stem cell function in hair follicles

May 24, 2017
Stem cell researchers at the University of Calgary have found another piece of the puzzle behind what may contribute to hair loss and prevent wounds from healing normally.

Activating pathway could restart hair growth in dormant hair follicles

December 5, 2013
A pathway known for its role in regulating adult stem cells has been shown to be important for hair follicle proliferation, but contrary to previous studies, is not required within hair follicle stem cells for their survival, ...

Recommended for you

Importance of cell cycle and cellular senescence in the placenta discovered

October 15, 2018
Working with researchers from Stanford University and St. Anna Children's Cancer Research, researchers from Jürgen Pollheimer's laboratory at the Medical University of Vienna's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology have ...

Team's study reveals hidden lives of medical biomarkers

October 12, 2018
What do medical biomarkers do on evenings and weekends, when they might be considered off the clock?

Researchers find a 'critical need' for whole genome sequencing of young cancer patients

October 12, 2018
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has re-defined the gold standard for diagnostic testing of childhood cancer patients in the precision-medicine era and has implemented the testing for new cancer patients. The findings ...

Novel genetic study sheds new light on risk of heart attack

October 12, 2018
Loss of a protein that regulates mitochondrial function can greatly increase the risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), Vanderbilt scientists reported Oct. 3 in the journal eLife.

Study: DNA websites cast broad net for identifying people

October 11, 2018
About 60 percent of the U.S. population with European heritage may be identifiable from their DNA by searching consumer websites, even if they've never made their own genetic information available, a study estimates.

First two papers based on studies using full set of data in the UK Biobank published

October 11, 2018
Two teams of researchers have independently published papers describing research conducted using the full set of data in the UK Biobank—both in the journal Nature. The first team comprised researchers from the U.K., Australia ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.