A protein called interleukin-1, found naturally in the human body, may be the key to stopping hair loss in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, University of Miami researchers report this month in the FASEB Journal, published by the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology.
"This is the first drug that has been found to be effective against hair loss from chemotherapy agents," said biochemist Adel Yunis. They hope to start a clinical trial at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital within a year.
Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Cancer patients try to minimize it by wrapping their heads in ice packs or cold cloths to try to slow the flow of chemotherapy drugs to the hair follicles.
Yunis and his colleagues stumbled on this unsuspected effect of interleukin-1 during experiments on rats receiving chemotherapy drugs that should make their hair fall out. Some of the rats were also receiving an experimental drug for brain tumors called ImuVert, and their hair was not falling out.
They eventually found that ImuVert stimulated the production of interleukin-1, and research on rats showed that it was the protective agent.