A team of scientists has found a new method to potentially prevent hair loss occurring due to chemotherapy with the help of ex vivo organ culture model. The team’s findings have been published in EMBO Molecular Medicine. Hair loss, also known as alopecia, is considered to be one of the most psychologically distressing symptoms associated with chemotherapy, to the point where treatment gets rejected to avoid it. Taxanes, which are a class of chemotherapeutic agents typically used in the treatment of breast cancer, have been reported to cause permanent alopecia upon use. In the recent study, the researchers have been able to determine precisely how taxanes damage the hair follicle, and thus, such damage, and the psychological stress it entails could be avoided.
Taxanes prevent cancer cells from undergoing mitosis, hair loss can occur with their use, as they also avoid mitosis in healthy dividing cells. Dr. Talveen Purba, the lead study investigator, has said in a press release that a pivotal part of their study was to understand exactly how the hair follicles responded to taxanes chemotherapy. They discovered that the specialized dividing cells found at the base of the hair follicle that is essential for growing hair, and the stem cells, from which the cells originate, are most susceptible to taxanes. The researchers wanted to figure out a way to prevent damage to the hair follicle, with affecting taxane’s effects on cancer cells. The found the answer in CDK4/6 inhibitors, which are another type of chemotherapeutic known to be capable of exerting its effects in a more targeted way.
Purba says that although this seemed counter-intuitive, they found that the CDK4/6 inhibitors could temporarily be used to halt cell division without stimulating additional toxic effects in the hair follicle. When the researchers covered organ-cultured human scalp hair follicles in CDK4/6 inhibitors, the hair follicles were less vulnerable to the damaging effects of taxanes.