Scientists Discover New Strategy to Treat Cancer Hair Loss

“We found that the specialized dividing cells at the base of the hair follicle that are critical for producing hair itself….”


Hair loss is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy, which is most distressing. And to overcome that, scientists from the University of Manchester have been able to discover a new breakthrough strategy to protect the hair from falling after chemotherapy. This could help to develop new treatments for cancer patients who suffer from chemo-induced hair loss.

The researchers conducted a study in the laboratory of the Centre for Dermatology Research run by Prof. Ralf Paus. They wanted to determine how hair follicle damage induced by taxanes could be prevented.

Taxanes are cytotoxic agents or cancer drugs used in chemotherapy, which are responsible for causing permanent hair loss.

To prevent taxanes-induced hair loss, the researchers analyzed the effects of a new class of drugs known as CDK4/6 inhibitors, which inhibits cell division. They are already approved for “targeted” cancer treatments.

Lead study author Dr. Talveen Purba said, “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.”

Oncologists commonly prescribe taxanes to patients with certain types of cancer, especially lung and breast cancer. In most patients, these anti-cancer drugs can cause anxiety and long-lasting hair loss, which could be distressing.

“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 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,” explained Dr. Purba. “Therefore, we must protect these cells most from undesired chemotherapy effects – but so that the cancer does not profit from it.”

The scientists opine that their research would help develop new treatments that would slowly suspend cell division in the hair follicles of those who undergo chemotherapy. However, they explained that more research is required to develop new treatments for cancer hair loss.

The lead author noted, “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.”

“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,” added Dr. Purba. “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.”