Hair loss with chemotherapy could be on the way out

April 11, 2000

Hair loss with chemotherapy could be on the way out

UK Contact: Claire Bowles

US Contact: New Scientist Washington office

New Scientist

HAIR loss is one of the most distressing side effects for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. People are sometimes so worried about it that they don't come forward for cancer screening. But soon a cream or gel could prevent patients going bald.

Stephen Davis and his colleagues at the drugs company Glaxo Wellcome in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, applied a drug called GW8510 to the scalps of rats before treatment with Etoposide, a common chemotherapy. Half the animals suffered no hair loss, and it was significantly reduced in the rest. Rats that didn't receive any GW8510, however, lost most of their hair. "It was just stunning," Davis says.

Most chemotherapy drugs attack rapidly dividing cells. Unfortunately, they kill not only fast-growing cancers but also healthy cells that divide rapidly, such as those surrounding the hair follicles. This is why people's hair falls out.

GW8510 works by temporarily preventing cells from dividing. When the compound is rubbed onto the scalp, it penetrates the cells near the surface and inactivates a critical enzyme called CDK2. Without CDK2, the cells remain stuck in one phase of the cell cycle and are thus protected from chemotherapy drugs.

The drug will now undergo clinical trials in humans. Davis expects that it will be supplied in a cream or clear gel that can be applied like shampoo or hair gel. Patients will simply rub it onto their scalp before each chemotherapy treatment and wash it out several hours later.

"The work is very well done," says William Hait, director of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. He expects the treatment to be simpler and more effective than the "ice helmets" often used during chemotherapy. "It's just part of a whole effort by researchers around the world to get involved not only in curing the disease, but also in making the treatments a lot more tolerable."
Author: Ribiya Tuma

New Scientist issue: 15th April 2000


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