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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 19:01 GMT
Super sonic hair growth
Sonic the Hedgehog - the computer game character
Sonic the Hedgehog - the computer game character
Scientists may have identified a gene which boosted hair regrowth in mice after chemotherapy.

Transferring sonic hedgehog genes (Shh) could help patients, says a team from Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York.

Up to 85% of chemotherapy patients lose their hair.

It can take three to six months to come back, and in a small number cases hair never regrows.

This is early days but we hope that in the future this technique may be transferred out of the laboratory and into the clinic

Cancer Research Campaign spokeswoman
Hair loss is a devastating and obvious sign of chemotherapy, and the side effect leads some patients reject the treatment.

The researchers, led by Noboru Sato suggests the Shh gene helps hit a biological switch that accelerates the initiation of the hair growth phase.

They say the discovery could enable them to learn more about hair regeneration in a number of diseases or even a treatment for chemotherapy-induced hair loss.

A combination of treatments that prevent hair loss and accelerate hair follicle recovery may prove to be the most effective for chemotherapy patients, they add.

Hair growth

The US researchers looked at hair growth in mice and the link with the Shh gene.

The gene, which plays a role in the formation of organs such as the brain, heart, lung and skeleton, also appears to play an important role in stimulating hair follicle growth, controlling the production of a protein which is part of the normal hair growth regulation cycle.

In the study, it was delivered through the skin using an adenovirus as a vehicle for the gene therapy.

Mice which had chemotherapy-induced alopecia after being given the cancer drug cyclophosphamide had parts of their skin treated with the gene therapy.

After two weeks, those mice who had been given the gene had large hair follicles which were growing.

Mice which received the adenovirus 'vehicle' with no gene therapy, or no treatment at all, had damaged hair follicles.

Body image worries

A spokeswoman for the Cancer Research Campaign said: "Quality of life is an important issue for cancer patients who are faced with treatments that can trigger very unpleasant side-effects.

"Body image is an important concern for patients undergoing chemotherapy, the loss of their hair can be especially devastating to their self-confidence."

She added: "The research reported by the Cornell-based scientists offers some hope that doctors may be able to stimulate hair growth using gene transfer.

"This is early days but we hope that in the future this technique may be transferred out of the laboratory and into the clinic."

The study is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

See also:

05 Jan 01 | Health
Cancer hair loss halted
23 Aug 01 | Health
Cancer patients 'choose chemo'
22 Oct 01 | Health
How teenagers deal with cancer
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