Scientists discover new breakthrough in cancer hair loss treatment

University of Manchester| September 2019 |Scientists discover new breakthrough in cancer hair loss treatment

Scientists at the University of Manchester have discovered that damage in the hair follicle causing by taxanes cancer drugs which can cause permanent hair loss, can be prevented. 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. 

Source Purba et al 2019
Image source: Purba et al 2019

Lead author of the study Dr Talveen Purba explains:

Dr Purba emphasises: “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 the cancer does not profit from it.”

The team hope that their work will support the development of externally applicable medicines that will slow or briefly suspend cell division in the scalp hair follicles of patients undergoing chemotherapy to mitigate against chemotherapy-induced hair damage. This could complement and enhance the efficacy of existing preventive approaches i.e. scalp cooling devices (Source: University of Manchester)

The full new story is available from the University of Manchester

Full reference: Purba, T. S. et al 2019| CDK4/6 inhibition mitigates stem cell damage in a novel model for taxane‐induced alopecia| EMBO molecular medicine|


Taxanes are a leading cause of severe and often permanent chemotherapy‐induced alopecia. As the underlying pathobiology of taxane chemotherapy‐induced alopecia remains poorly understood, we investigated how paclitaxel and docetaxel damage human scalp hair follicles in a clinically relevant ex vivo organ culture model. Paclitaxel and docetaxel induced massive mitotic defects and apoptosis in transit amplifying hair matrix keratinocytes and within epithelial stem/progenitor cell‐rich outer root sheath compartments, including within Keratin 15+ cell populations, thus implicating direct damage to stem/progenitor cells as an explanation for the severity and permanence of taxane chemotherapy‐induced alopecia. Moreover, by administering the CDK4/6 inhibitor palbociclib, we show that transit amplifying and stem/progenitor cells can be protected from paclitaxel cytotoxicity through G1 arrest, without premature catagen induction and additional hair follicle damage. Thus, the current study elucidates the pathobiology of taxane chemotherapy‐induced alopecia, highlights the paramount importance of epithelial stem/progenitor cell‐protective therapy in taxane‐based oncotherapy, and provides preclinical proof‐of‐principle in a healthy human (mini‐) organ that G1 arrest therapy can limit taxane‐induced tissue damage.


The article can be read online or downloaded





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