Innovation inspired by loss
Nov 24, 2016
G I Magazine spoke with Richard Paxman – the current CEO of Paxman Coolers, a manufacturer and supplier of scalp cooling equipment for the prevention of hair loss during chemotherapy, to discuss the story and history behind the company.
The story of Paxman Coolers is a remarkable one, and one that touches all of us who have been affected by cancer, either ourselves or through a loved one. Often business isn’t personal. It’s about a wish to succeed, or a desire to create money. Paxman Coolers, as a business, came from a different place altogether.
Glenn Paxman, seeing how difficult hair loss was for his wife during her treatment for breast cancer, was determined to try and alleviate the problem for others.
His father Eric had invented the beer cooler in the 1950s, so knowing the technology, Glenn took the innovative step forward to look at how cooling methods could be used and adapted to halt the hair loss associated with chemotherapy. Glenn and his brother Neil built the first prototype of the cooling cap in 1997 and, in the ten years that followed, modified and improved the technology, in the process supporting thousands of patients.
The Paxman system uses a small refrigeration unit that circulates coolant to a cap worn on the head. The temperature of the scalp is lowered before, during and after chemotherapy. This, in turn, reduces blood flow to the hair follicles and means that hair loss is no longer inevitable during treatment.
The current CEO is Richard Paxman, who is the son of Glenn, and whose mother was the inspiration for the innovative development of the cooling cap technology. Paxman Coolers is based in Huddersfield in the UK.
“Hair loss prevention for cancer patients started with tourniquets, with the head being wrapped in a tourniquet which was quite crude,” he says. “Then it moved on to the idea of using ice packs, which again were not ideal as they melted quickly. Since then we’ve had gel packs, incredibly cold at -20 degrees Celsius, but they also lose their temperature and need to be changed every 20 minutes”.
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy the cancer cells in the body but this also affects other cells in the body, which means that normal cells can be destroyed also.
“Back in the nineties my mother had breast cancer, and was treated with chemotherapy,” says Richard. “She was offered a treatment called scalp cooling, which unfortunately wasn’t successful for her. So because of the family history in innovation and cooling, my father looked to develop something that would work for patients. He had seen the distress that my mother went through and how people start to treat you differently because of your treatment and were determined to use the family knowledge and to do something for my mum, which was incredibly special, and still is to this day”
If you have ever known anyone who is going through chemotherapy you will know that as part of the process, as part of keeping things normal, patients will often go to great lengths to keep their appearance as it was. As part of this interview, we spoke to a survivor of breast cancer who pushed the point home.
“The battle against cancer is no such thing,” she says. “You get cancer and you’re in the hands of the medical professionals and the chemotherapy that you take. One thing that you can do, that you can control to some degree, is how you look. You actually have some say in that matter, so anything that can help you keep your hair is incredibly important.”
The science behind the products is actually fairly understandable for such a complex area of medicine. Richard explained.
“We cool the scalp to below 22 degrees Celsius, so anywhere between 18 to 22 degrees Celsius, and at this temperature we see a constriction in blood flow and chemotherapy agent to the hair follicles, which is quite a basic idea”
What’s more complex is the drop in metabolic rates, reducing the level of cell activity due to cold temperatures which is where Richard’s relationship with the University of Huddersfield comes in. Currently there is research being done with the university to understand this area further so that the mechanisms for scalp cooling can be improved.
Once the cap is on the patients head, they wear it for 30 minutes before the chemotherapy infusion. This is called the pre-cooling stage. The patient then keeps it on during the drug infusion, which can vary in time according to the chemotherapy regime. After the drug infusion, the patient continues with cooling for an average of between 45 to 90 minutes.
Richard explained that the success rate for patients with the cooling system depends upon a number of factors, including the type of chemotherapy regime and dosage they receive. This can be anywhere between 50% and 90% success rate.
So why is this option, this harbour for cancer patients so unknown to the wider public?
“In the last five years, things have changed; we’re getting stronger clinical data and attitudes have changed. We’re now proving the product to oncologists and patients. Patients are becoming more empowered to choose their own treatment path, and if they want to keep their hair then they can start to request the cooling option. We’re a business, but what we want primarily is for patients to have this choice worldwide”
The modern Paxman business is one that came from a difficult place, to say the least, as it was the loss of a loved one that led to the development of the technology in the first place. However, as Glenn originally hoped for, this technology is now offering a choice to cancer patients globally. A choice in having some control over cancer, when choices are at a premium.
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