Recently it has emerged that a protein injection could possibly be the answer to stop hair from falling out during chemotherapy. A study found that by injecting mice with a protein which promotes hair growth, meant that they did not lose their hair during cancer therapy. The finding has raised hope that perhaps one day cancer patients will be able to avoid this distressing side effect of chemotherapy.
Hair loss has actually been found to be one of the side effects of chemotherapy that patients are mostly afraid of. In fact, a survey of women with breast cancer found that eight percent of the women were considering refusing treatment so that they would not have to lose their hair.
Current options to stop hair loss during cancer treatments
Unfortunately, patients have little to no options whilst receiving treatment to save their hair. Currently ’scalp cooling’ caps are available, these work by freezing and constricting the blood vessels near the scalp so that the chemo drugs don’t flow into the hair follicles. The downside is that they are costly, only appear to be effective in fifty percent of patients and cannot be worn for more than two hours without side effects such as discomfort and headaches.
Other patients and scientists have attempted using topical solutions of Minoxidil during chemotherapy; however randomised controlled trials have found this to be non-beneficial.
How was this hair promoting drug discovered?
Researchers decided to increase their understanding of how chemotherapy damaged hair follicles and studied the protein p53. P53 is activated during cancer treatments however it plays a role in supressing hair growth; previous studies have noted that mice which do not have the p53 protein did not lose their hair during chemotherapy. Whilst studying the p53 protein, researchers also found another hair promoting protein WNT3a.
Further investigations and experimentations found that by injecting WNT3a into mice during chemotherapy seemed to prevent hair fall. Scientists are now looking into how they could adapt their findings for use in patients, perhaps by administering several injections into the scalp during chemotherapy or by delivering WNT3a via a cream or gel form that can be spread over the scalp.