Cancer patients’ gray hair turns brown while taking new immune drugs

CHICAGO (AP) – Cancer patients’ gray hair unexpectedly turned youthfully dark while taking novel drugs, and it has doctors scratching their heads.

Chemotherapy is notorious for making hair fall out, but the 14 patients involved were all being treated with new immunotherapy drugs that work differently and have different side effects. A Spanish study suggests that may include restoring hair pigment, at least in patients with lung cancer.

With the first patient, “we thought it could be an isolated case,” said Dr. Noelia Rivera, a dermatologist at Autonomous University of Barcelona.

The 14 cases were among 52 lung cancer patients being followed to see whether they developed bad side effects from the drugs – Keytruda, Opdivo and Tecentriq.

While most patients did not have a color change, the 14 cases suggest it’s not an isolated finding. In 13 patients, hair turned darkish brown or black. In one patient, it turned black in patches.

In another odd twist, the same drugs have been linked previously with hair losing color in patients with another cancer, melanoma.

All but one of the 14 patients in the Spanish study had at least stable disease and responded better to treatment than other patients, suggesting that hair darkening might be an indication that the drugs are working, the researchers said.

Rivera said they are continuing the study to search for an explanation and to see if the cases are just a fluke.

“It’s a fascinating report – one of those things that comes out of the blue,” said Dr. June Robinson, a Northwestern University research professor in dermatology. Robinson is also editor of the medical journal JAMA Dermatology, which published the study online this month.

She said the results deserve a deeper look but cautioned that it’s way too soon to suggest that they might lead to new treatments for gray hair.

Rivera noted that the study drugs have serious side effects that make them unsafe for healthy people. But if it’s confirmed that they do change hair color, a different drug could be developed to treat gray hair, she said.

The pharmaceutical industry has previously capitalized on unexpected drug side effects; examples include the male pattern baldness drug Propecia, the eyelash growing drug Latisse, and Botox anti-wrinkle injections. Active ingredients in these drugs were initially approved to treat enlarged prostates, eye pressure problems, and eye muscle spasms.

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Leadership fellows program going statewide

INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — The Indianapolis-based Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation is taking its Fellows program statewide. The nonprofit says the program aims to “bridge the gap between Indiana’s current leaders and its future leaders, and break down growth barriers with innovative ideas.” 

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, MDLF Executive Director Mike Young said the majority of the program’s participants to date have been from central Indiana.

“Last year, we had three exceptions: one from Salem, one from Lafayette, and one from Evansville,” said Young. “This model has proved really successful and so this year, we’re looking to grow the number of people from outside central Indiana and truly make this a statewide network which aligns with Mitch Daniels’ vision for what we should be. Since when he was governor, he was governor of all 92 counties, we need to represent all 92 counties and get the whole state working together.

The fellowship was created in 2016 with what Young says was the goal of getting more people involved in understanding the type of leadership exemplified by Daniels, both as governor and in the private sector. Participants spend 12 months learning about what is doing on in Indiana, how the state stacks up to its neighbors and the rest of the country, and identifying problems and opportunities in which they could make an impact.

Young says the fellows then develop proposals to address specific problems, which are pitched to the foundation. “The hope is that these proposals will catalyze ideas that the organization can then execute on or that the fellows could go work on individually after they’ve completed this first year of learning about the state.”

Young says it is important for the program to represent all areas of the state and not just central Indiana. He says doing so creates benefits, including bringing a broader array of perspectives and ideas to the table that would create more options for solving problems throughout the state.

“Second of all, the states around us are in many ways our competitors and are actively working to engage different parts of their geography and pull them all together so that they can become stronger and that will manifest itself in potentially them providing a better business climate or making (their states) more attractive to companies or students or new residents. So we need to start thinking about Indiana as a competitor in this regional space with all our Midwestern neighbors and the best way that we can compete with these other states…is to also think statewide ourselves.”

Young says the foundation has already seen much interest of communities throughout Indiana. As part of the statewide expansion, the foundation is looking to move some of its events to other areas of the state to grow the percentage of fellows outside of central Indiana.

The foundation is currently accepting applications for this year’s cohort of the Fellows program through March 15. You can learn more about the program by clicking here.