Cancer cells tend to grow quickly, and chemo medication kills aggressive cells. But as a result of these medications travel throughout the body, they can affect normal, healthy cells that are fast-growing, too. Damage to healthy cells causes side effects. Side effects aren’t perpetually as dangerous as you may expect, but many people worry about this part of cancer treatment.
The cells that are likely to be damaged by chemo are cells in the bone marrow, hair follicles, cells in the mouth, digestive tract, and reproductive system. Some chemo medication injures cells within the heart, kidneys, bladder, lungs, and nervous system. Sometimes, you can take medicines with the chemo to help protect your body’s normal cells. There are also treatments to help relieve side effects.
The study published in the EMBO Molecular Medicine journal describes how we can prevent damage to the hair follicles caused by taxanes, the cancer drugs which can cause permanent hair loss.
To do this, the research team has exploited the properties of a new category of drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors, which block the division of cells and are medically approved as “targeted” cancer therapies.
“Although at first, this seems counter-intuitive, we found out that CDK4/6 inhibitors can be used temporarily to stop cell division without promoting additional toxic effects in the hair follicle. When we bathed organ-cultured hair follicles in CDK4/6 inhibitors, the hair follicles were less susceptible to the damaging effects of taxanes,” said lead author Talveen Purba from the University of Manchester
“A pivotal part of our study was to first get to grips with how exactly hair follicles responded to taxane chemotherapy, and we found that the specialized dividing cells at the base of the hair follicle which are critical for producing hair itself, and the stem cells from which they arise, are most vulnerable to taxanes.
“Therefore, we must protect these cells most from undesired chemotherapy effects,” Purba said.
The researchers underscore that more work is desperately needed in this lamentably under-funded field of cancer medicine, where patients have waited for so long to see real breakthroughs in pharmacological hair loss prevention.