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San Diego startup creates first portable "cold cap" to save chemotherapy patients' hair

Cooler Heads to begin shipping devices this month
Cooler Heads cold cap
Posted at 4:44 PM, May 06, 2022

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – For many cancer patients, one of the worst parts of the disease stems from the treatment itself: hair loss from chemotherapy.

But a San Diego entrepreneur has invented a new solution that will begin shipping to patients this month.

It’s the first portable cold cap. Cold caps have been cleared for use in the U.S. since 2015, but Cooler Heads founder and CEO Kate Dilligan says her product is the first that will allow patients to undergo scalp-cooling treatments from home instead of at an infusion clinic, saving patients time and significantly reducing the price tag.

Dilligan came up with the idea after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.

“Being able to keep your identity when you're sick is so important to you as a cancer patient because if people know that you're sick, you get pitied,” said Dilligan. “This was the inspiration for me to build something that would allow anybody, anywhere to have a choice as to whether or not they wanted to keep their hair.”

During four months of chemotherapy, Dilligan was able to keep her hair by using a cold cap at each infusion appointment. But the technology forced her to spend several additional hours in the clinic chair.

“I used a version of this therapy that involves gel caps that are cooled and dry eyes that have to be switched on and off your head every 20 to 30 minutes. And over eight cycles of chemotherapy, it cost me more than $8,000, which is not attainable for most people,” she said.

Enter Amma, Cooler Heads’ debut product. The FDA-cleared device is portable, allowing patients to start and finish their scalp cooling treatments at home.

“Less than 20 percent of infusion centers offer cold cap therapy because of all the additional chair time and nursing resources. So we've built a product that is fully patient-administered and portable,” she said.

Cooler Heads will offer device rentals at $2,000, regardless of the length of the patient’s chemotherapy. With other treatments, patients with long treatment cycles pay significantly more.

By cooling the scalp to 36 degrees, the cap reduces blood flow to the area, making it harder for the cancer-fighting drugs to reach hair follicles. Studies show cold caps work, saving the majority of hair in two out of three patients.

“Your hair will thin using cold cap therapy. But if it's done correctly, if it fits right, if you wear it for the right amount of time, you should keep more than half your hair,” she said.

Cooler Heads will build and ship the devices in San Diego County, from a healthcare products development company Pathway in Santee. After obtaining FDA clearance in December, Dilligam said the company will begin taking orders and shipping the devices this month.

Insurance coverage for cold caps has traditionally been spotty, but Dilligan said a recent change by Medicare paves the way for insurance to cover them.

“People are afraid to look sick in front of their colleagues, in front of their children, in front of their loved ones. We want to provide patients with an option that is affordable and attainable for them,” Dilligan said.