A New Strategy to Prevent Hair Loss
Ok, figuring out a way to reduce or eliminate alopecia (hair loss) from radiation therapy to the brain or, more commonly, from chemotherapy isn't on the same level as figuring out how to prevent cancer. However, it would most certainly be a very positive improvement to the treatment experience. Most of us struggled, to a greater or lesser degree, with nausea and fatigue and generalized malaise during treatment, but what we most hated was being bald.
Before we start celebrating, this is a report of a single study on rats. All too often, experiments that look useful in the lab with mice or rats turn out not to work equally well on people. This could be the same outcome...or maybe not. From the University of Wisconsin comes this report of the use of topical vasoconstrictor creams to the scalp. In rats, this technique really worked.
Here is the abstract from the International Journal of Cancer:
A new strategy to prevent chemotherapy and radiotherapy induced
alopecia using topically applied vasoconstrictor
Cheryl M. Soref and William E. Fahl
In a new strategy, we sought to determine whether topically applied vasoconstrictor, with its accompanying transient skin hypoxia and exclusion of systemic drug, would prevent or suppress radiotherapy or chemotherapy-induced alopecia. Topical vasoconstrictor was applied to 1-cm2 skin patches on the backs of 10-day-old rats and minutes later they received either 7.1 gray (Gy) whole-body radiation or systemic N-nitroso-N-methylurea (MNU) or Cytoxan. The degree of alopecia was scored 10 days later by visual assessment (% coat retention) and hair follicle histologic analysis. Topical application of epinephrine or norepinephrine
in an alcohol:water delivery vehicle induced clear skin blanch, and in a dose-dependent manner, topical epinephrine or norepinephrine (20–1,000 mM) applied before 7.1 Gy irradiation conferred 95% of coat retention in the treated skin patches versus 0% coat retention in vehicle controls, or in skin outside the treated patches. By histology, small numbers of dystrophic hair follicles were observed in hairless skin versus the normal density of anagen follicles in the immediately adjacent, drug protected skin patches at day 20; protected coats were retained into adulthood. Topical epinephrine or norepinephrine before systemic MNU (30 ug/gm body weight) conferred up to 95% of coat retention in treated skin patches versus 0% coat retention elsewhere. Epinephrine-conferred % coat retention dropped to 16% in rats that received systemic Cytoxan, a drug whose plasma -life is at least 8- to 10-fold longer than MNU. A general strategy is discussed for the use of topical epinephrine or norepinephrine in the clinic to provide an inexpensive and convenient strategy to prevent cancer therapy-induced alopecia.
And : Conclusions
In conclusion, the data presented here demonstrate that topical
application of a-adrenergic vasoconstrictors to skin in
neonate rats before a large radiation insult or large systemic
chemotherapy insult can prevent up to 100% of the alopecia
that was seen in vehicle control animals. Variations of this
assay provide a straightforward way to further test this strategy
that could provide a simple and inexpensive way to prevent
or suppress alopecia in human cancer patients.