Scientists discover new way to treat cancer hair loss

In a new study, researchers have discovered a new way to protect the hair follicle from chemotherapy in an effort to prevent hair loss as a result of cancer treatments.

The research was conducted by a team from the University of Manchester.

In the study, the team described how damage in the hair follicle caused by taxanes, cancer drugs which can cause permanent hair loss, can be prevented.

They have exploited the properties of a newer class of drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors, which blocks cell division and are already medically approved as so-called “targeted” cancer therapies.

They found that CDK4/6 inhibitors can be used temporarily to halt cell division without promoting additional toxic effects in the hair follicle.

When they bathed organ-cultured human scalp hair follicles in CDK4/6 inhibitors, the hair follicles were much less susceptible to the damaging effects of taxanes

Taxanes are very important anti-cancer drugs commonly used to treat, for example, 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.

(Thousands of patients in the US are currently suing pharmaceutical company Sanofi over a lack of warning of the risk of permanent hair loss after treatment with the taxane drug Taxotere.)

The team says a pivotal part of this study is to first get to grips with how exactly hair follicles responded to taxane chemotherapy.

They found that the specialized 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.

It is important to protect these cells most from undesired chemotherapy effects—but so that cancer does not profit from it.

The team hopes that their work will support the development of better medicines that will slow or briefly suspend cell division in the scalp hair follicles of patients undergoing chemotherapy.

This could complement and enhance the efficacy of existing preventive approaches i.e. scalp cooling devices.

The lead author of the study is Professor Ralf Paus of the Centre for Dermatology Research.

The study is published in EMBO Molecular Medicine.

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