Scientists discover drug that stops hair loss during chemotherapy

Relatively little is known about how cancer treatment affects hair follicles

TOPSHOT - Patients/models give an emotional salute at the end of the second annual Capwalk Boston fashion show hosted by The Verma Foundation at the City Winery in Boston, Massachusetts on September 9, 2019.   All the models in the show are currently in treatment for cancer, undergoing chemotherapy or have just finished it. Outfits in the show were loaned and chosen by Lord & Taylor. The Verma Foundation is a non-profit committed to creating custom and free human hair cap wigs for cancer patients suffering from hair loss. / AFP / Joseph Prezioso
Powered by automated translation

Scientists in the UK have uncovered a way that would stop cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy from losing their hair.

Researchers at the University of Manchester made the discovery by exploiting the properties of a newer class of drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors that are used for “targeted” cancer therapies

“Although at first this seems counter-intuitive, 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, lead author of the study, which was published in EMBO Molecular Medicine journalist.

“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.

Taxanes are anti-cancer drugs that cause hair-loss.

“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,” said Dr Purba.

Dr Purba said a key part of the study was understanding precisely how hair follicles are affected by chemotherapy.

“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,” he said.

Dr Purba added that it was still unclear why some chemotherapy patients had greater hair loss than others despite being on the same drug and dose.

In the US, more than 10,000 breast cancer survivors are suing the drug company Sanofi-Aventis, which makes the taxane drug Taxotere. The claimants say the permanent hair loss risk from taking Taxotere is not made clear enough.