Scientists from Manchester University might have found a way to protect the hair follicle during chemotherapy.
The study from the laboratory of Professor Ralf Paus of the Centre for Dermatology Research described how chemo drugs called taxanes cause damage to the hair follicle causing permanent hair loss.
These drugs are typically used to treat breast cancer and lung cancer, which is why patients with these forms of the disease are more likely to lose their hair, say the researchers.
The research team utilised a newer class of drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors, which blocks cell division and are already medically approved as so-called “targeted” cancer therapies.
The drug was found to reduce the toxic effects of the chemo drugs.
“We found that CDK4/6 inhibitors can be used temporarily to halt cell division without promoting additional toxic effects in the hair follicle.” said Dr Talveen Purba,Research Associate, Division of Musculoskeletal & Dermatological Sciences, Manchester University and the lead author of the study.
“When we bathed organ-cultured human scalp hair follicles in CDK4/6 inhibitors, the hair follicles were much less susceptible to the damaging effects of taxanes.”he added.
The research showed that special cells at the base of the hair follicle that divide to produce the hair, were most vulnerable to taxanes.
“Therefore, we must protect these cells most from undesired chemotherapy effects,” he said.
The team hope their work will help pave the way for creams or other medicines applied to the scalp that briefly suspend cell division in the scalp hair follicles of patients having chemo.
They said it could work alongside current approaches, like scalp cooling caps.
“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,” he said.
“We also don’t really know why some patients show greater hair loss than others even though they get the same drug and drug-dose, and why it is that certain chemotherapy regimens and drug combinations have much worse outcomes than others”
More research is required to make this a reality for cancer patients, says researchers.
“We need time to further develop approaches like this to not only prevent hair loss, but promote hair follicle regeneration in patients who have already lost their hair due to chemotherapy.” he added.
Researchers hope that the findings could help prevent hair loss during treatment in the future.