Scientists have developed a new strategy that could protect chemotherapy patients from suffering hair loss.

Researchers at the University of Manchester uncovered the breakthrough via the CDK4/6 inhibitor drug, which is an existing form of cancer therapy that blocks the division of affected cells to stop the disease from spreading.

They found that when organ-cultured human scalp hair follicles were bathed in the inhibitors, they were much less susceptible to the damaging effects of the chemotherapy drugs that cause hair loss.

Image: The hair follicle cells highlighted in red are unable to divide properly due to certain chemotherapy drugs. Pic: University of Manchester

Organ-cultured means the follicles used were developed to model the characteristics of those that would be found on a human head, with testing of the technique having not yet gone beyond the laboratory stage.

But the scientists remain excited by the potential benefits of their discovery, as hair loss is among the most upsetting side-effects for people who go through chemotherapy.


The drugs that cause hair to fall out are called taxanes, which are used to treat breast and lung cancer.

Dr Talveen Purba, lead author on the study, said it is a delicate balancing act to ensure follicles can be protected from taxanes in a way that does not undermine their impact on cancerous cells.

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"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," he said.

"Therefore, we must protect these cells most from undesired chemotherapy effects – but so that the cancer does not profit from it."

Manchester, UK - 4 May 2017: College Buildings Of The University Of Manchester stock photo
Image: The breakthrough was uncovered at the University of Manchester. File pic

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