for chemotherapy-induced hair loss
From the patients perspective, hair loss (alopecia) ranks
second only to nausea as a distressing side effect of chemotherapy.
Research presented at the 91st Annual Meeting of the American Association
for Cancer Research (AACR) demonstrates promising results from a
new synthetic compound in preventing hair loss caused by a common
Like cancer cells, the epithelial cells surrounding hair follicles
divide rapidly. Therefore, traditional anticancer agents that target
rapidly dividing malignant cells also cause hair loss. Stephen T.
Davis, PhD and researchers at Glaxo Wellcome, Inc. in Research Triangle
Park, North Carolina, focused on developing a compound to selectively
inhibit activity of an enzyme involved in cell division called cyclin-dependent
kinase 2 (CDK2). They now have evidence that CDK2 prevents chemotherapy-induced
alopecia without reducing the anticancer effect of chemotherapy
In in vitro studies on human cells, the synthetic compound GW8510
demonstrated encouraging initial results. When Davis put the gel
on rats who had been given the chemotherapy drug etoposide, the
gel GW8510 was "100% effective in preventing hair loss in about
half of the rats and partially effective in the remaining 40%."
Etoposide is used to treat malignancies such as cancers of the testes,
lung and bladder, as well as lymphoma, acute myelocytic leukemia
and Ewings sarcoma. He says that the compound offered "stunning
protection." Davis, presented the study at the meeting of the
American Association for Cancer Research.
There is a tremendous unmet need to prevent chemotherapy-induced
hair loss and eliminate this additional stress factor among patients
already emotionally devastated by a cancer diagnosis, said
Davis. GW8510 has also shown efficacy in protecting against alopecia
caused by cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) and doxorubicin (Adriamycin),
agents used in treatment of advanced metastatic breast cancer and
other malignancies. Researchers are targeting this approach for
a Phase I clinical trial in the advanced breast cancer setting.
Another cancer researcher, William N. Hait, MD, PhD, director of
the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, says that it is only recently
that cancer research has turned to quality of life issues that affect
cancer patients. At one time, very few cancer patients survived,
but now about half of the one million Americans who will be diagnosed
this year with cancer will survive the disease. But researchers
are now faced with issues about the quality of that survival, as
well as the pain and suffering patients endure during active treatment.
Improved pain medication has been helpful and new drugs are effectively
counteracting the nausea caused by chemotherapy, but so far efforts
to prevent hair loss have been ineffective.
One early approach to protecting against the hair loss, also called
alopecia, was the use of "ice caps. Patients would wear these
caps with the hope that they would freeze the scalp and thus protect
the hair from the effects of chemotherapy," Hait said. Ice
caps were extremely painful and also offered only selective protection
because "only some areas of the scalp would actually be frozen."
Hait says the results of Davis' study are very encouraging but
that the cancer drug used in the study, etoposide, doesn't cause
the severe hair loss seen with some other drugs. He says, for instance,
that women taking Taxol for treatment of breast cancer usually lose
all body hair, "even eyebrows, a condition called alopecia
totalis." Etoposide is used for treatment of cancers of the
bladder, testicles, and lung. Hait says that it would be interesting
to test the drug's effectiveness against Taxol. Davis counters by
saying that "rats given Taxol don't lose their hair, but we
did test the compound on rats treated with [two other cancer drugs],
which do cause alopecia totalis." He says the compound was
just as efficacious in those rats as well.
Here's how the gel works. Chemotherapy attempts to kill cancer
cells but because the cells of healthy growing hair behave in much
the same way as cancer cells, they get killed too. By spreading
the gel on the scalp, the compound can offer short-term protection
to the hair follicles while not interfering with the cancer-killing
potential of the chemotherapy drugs, says Davis. He says that the
gel is applied before chemotherapy is given and then washed off
after chemotherapy. "The duration of action of the compound
is 24 hours," he says. Because the gel is on the scalp for
such a brief period, "there are no observable cosmetic affects
on the hair. There is neither less hair, nor more hair," he
He says that the rat studies of the compound found that it had
no harmful effect on the skin and the company is now proceeding
with plans for a human study.