Immunotherapy has long held the promise of a new treatment for cancer that avoided hair loss. But it has been held back by some significant shortcomings. A team at Yale in the US has been working on a new technique that may be about to change the answer to the question, can I avoid chemo hair loss?
Chemotherapy-Induced Hair Loss
From its earliest days as a cancer treatment, it was recognised that hair would be a casualty of the process. Chemotherapy works because highly toxic drugs are designed to attack fast-growing cells. While this is the category that cancer cells fall into it also sees it attack hair cells. Among the fastest-growing cells in the human body hair cells are almost always a victim. It means that hair loss is part of the prognosis for treatment, a fact that sees many women decline the offer. The prospect of losing their hair, while already at their lowest ebb, is simply too much.
In fact, the Taxotere court case currently working its way through the American legal system has shown the scale of the problem. It features one of the more popular chemotherapy drugs that has allegedly left patients with permanent hair loss. While yet to be proven it is just the sort of story to put even more women off taking the treatment.
Immunotherapy is a new kind of cancer treatment. It is a biological therapy that uses substances from living organisms to help your own system fight off cancer. It has changed completely the way we treat some cancers. But a feature of cancerous cells is that they use molecular disguises to evade attack by our immune system. These disguises, particularly when a cell evolves and changes its disguise, can render immunotherapy useless against them.
A team at Yale University in the USA has been working on this problem. Using a combination of cutting edge technologies they seem to have made some progress.
Avoiding Chemo Hair Loss
The team at Yale were exploring the use of CRISPR gene-editing technology, combined with viral gene therapy. Their new system is called Multiplexed Activation of Endogenous Genes as Immunotherapy (MAEGI).
Their new MAEGI system helps identify cancer cells. Even when those cells have changed, which they can over time, to make themselves harder to spot by the immune system. The MAEGI system can find them, and then mark them for destruction. MAEGI can do this even when the cancer cell is some distance from the primary tumour site.
HIS Hair Clinic
MAEGI could represent a leap forward in cancer treatment. Making immunotherapy an option for many more cancers and removing the threat of hair loss completely. It is an exciting prospect, but one that is a long way off at the moment. There are years of trials to be successfully negotiated first. The fact that this is a combination of two existing therapies that are already trusted is encouraging. The achievement, if successful, is probably worthy of a Nobel prize. We will be watching closely. Use the link here to see the official publication.
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