Chemotherapy patients have been offered a new hope in combating hair loss associated with cancer treatment. Scientists have developed a strategy to protect the hair follicle from chemotherapy.
The researchers at The University of Manchester say it could lead to new treatments that prevent chemotherapy-induced hair loss – arguably one of the most psychologically distressing side effects of modern cancer therapy.
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They have exploited the properties of a newer class of drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors, which block cell division and are already medically approved as so-called “targeted” cancer therapies. When the scientists bathed organ-cultured human scalp hair follicles in CDK4/6 inhibitors, the hair follicles were much less susceptible to the damaging effects of taxanes.
Dr Talveen Purba, lead author on the study, said: “A pivotal part of our study was to first get to grips with how exactly hair follicles responded to taxane chemotherapy. And we found that the specialised dividing cells at the base of the hair follicle that are critical for producing hair itself, and the stem cells from which they arise, are most vulnerable to taxanes.
“Therefore, we must protect these cells most from undesired chemotherapy effects – but so that the cancer does not profit from it.”
Taxanes are very important anti-cancer drugs commonly used to treat patients with breast or lung carcinoma and particularly cause anxieties among breast cancer patients for the very distressing and sometimes long-lasting hair loss taxanes can induce.
Researchers hope their work, published in the EMBO Molecular Medicine journal, will support the development of externally applicable medicines that will slow or briefly suspend cell division in the scalp hair follicles of patients to mitigate against chemotherapy-induced hair damage.
Dr Purba added: “Despite the fact that taxanes have been used in the clinic for decades, and have long been known to cause hair loss, we’re only now scratching the surface of how they damage the human hair follicle.”