10 October 2017

Cure cancer and save hair

Doctors have found a way to save patients from baldness with chemotherapy

Daria Zagorskaya, Vesti

Hair loss is one of the most unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer. Sometimes it comes to the point that some women refuse this method of treatment, just to keep their curls.

To date, there are several ways to prevent baldness. For example, cooling the scalp during the procedure narrows blood vessels and prevents drugs from entering the hair follicles. But, unfortunately, this approach helps only half of the patients. In addition, the use of a cooling helmet causes headaches and increases the duration of the procedure by two hours.

Sometimes during the course, patients receive minoxidil, which stimulates hair growth. But recent work has shown that the effectiveness of this method is extremely low.

Sung-Jan Lin from the National Taiwan University believes that the problem lies in a lack of understanding of exactly how chemotherapy damages hair follicles.

Together with his team, the scientist decided to carefully investigate the role of the p53 protein, which is activated during treatment and suppresses tumor growth. The fact is that hair cells divide almost as quickly as cancer cells, so they also fall under the negative influence of the same protein. In a previous study, it was found that mice deprived of the p53 protein do not lose their fur during a course of chemotherapy.

Plunging into the wilds of biochemistry, Lin and his colleagues found out that p53 blocks the activity of another protein – WNT3a, which stimulates hair growth. It was then that scientists had the idea to inject WNT3a directly into the scalp during the treatment course.

To test their assumption, the researchers "treated" mice with an ordinary drug widely used in chemotherapy. Immediately after that, they injected microscopic beads impregnated with WNT3a protein under the skin of the animals. This made it possible to localize the substance in a certain area to test its effect.

As expected, five days after chemotherapy, the areas treated with protein remained covered with thick hair, while the rest of the skin surface turned out to be completely bare.

Further analysis of the results showed that already on the first day after the injection, the number of stem cells doubled at the base of the hair follicles.

Now the team is looking for a way to adapt the method to treat people.

"It is not safe to inject a protein that stimulates hair growth into the scalp in the form of a ball," says Lin. "We may have to use an array of thin needles that will allow us to process a lot of hair follicles."

According to the authors of the work, the results of which are published in Cancer Research, another approach to solving the problem may be the development of ointments and creams containing substances that can activate WNT3a.

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