Chemo hair loss misery may soon be over

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British scientists say they hope to end the hair loss that is one of the most distressing side effects of cancer treatment. Researchers at the University of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire plan to combine scalp cooling — already shown to be effective in half of all cases — with a specially formulated shampoo or lotion that could be applied to the scalp.

The work is being done at the university’s new Scalp Cooling Research Centre with backing from Paxman, a medical technology company.

“It is the world’s first multi-disciplinary research centre focused on scalp cooling and will take scalp cooling research to another level,” said centre Co-Director Dr Nikolaos Georgopoulos.

When worn during chemotherapy, the “cooling caps” cool the scalp which reduces the risk of hair loss. The caps — made from lightweight silicone — have to be as snug a fit as possible, and Paxman has worked with the University of Huddersfield’s Dr Ertu Unver, whose areas of expertise include 3D printing and product design, to improve the design of the cap.

Now, the Scalp Cooling Research Centre will work towards a 100 per cent elimination of hair loss during chemo and one of the keys to this will be the cultivation of hair follicles in the lab, to be carried out by Biological Sciences Senior Lecturer Dr Iain Haslam. This will enable detailed research into the toxicity of chemotherapy drugs.

Shampoo used with the cooling cap

Under development and soon to be patented is the use of a natural product which, when used in tandem with scalp cooling, has the potential to increase the success rate to 80 per cent or even end hair loss completely for some chemotherapy drugs. One of the tasks of the research centre will be to develop the best way to deliver this agent to the scalp hair follicles, said Georgopoulos. One possibility is a specially-formulated shampoo or lotion that could be used just before and during treatment.

A combination of this product and the use of scalp cooling could become standard procedure during chemotherapy, predicted Dr Georgopoulos. He added that the Scalp Cooling Research Centre would also have the resources and expertise to investigate new chemotherapy drugs as they came into use, in order to discover their role in hair loss.