New Cancer Treatment Prevents Hair Loss From Chemotherapy

London: A novel method discovered recently by a group of researchers, including one of Indian-origin, shows how hair loss from chemotherapy can be prevented during cancer treatment in patients, arguably one of the most psychologically distressing side effects of modern cancer therapy.

The study published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine describes how damage to the hair follicles caused by taxanes, cancer drugs which can cause permanent hair loss, can be prevented.

To do this, the research team has 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.

“Although at first, this seems counterintuitive, we found that CDK4/6 inhibitors can be used temporarily to halt cell division without promoting additional toxic effects in the hair follicle. 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,” study lead author Talveen Purba from the University of Manchester said.

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.

“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 cancer does not profit from it,” Purba said.

The researchers underscore that more work is desperately needed in this lamentably under-funded field of cancer medicine, where patients have waited for so long to see real breakthroughs in pharmacological hair loss prevention.