The US maker of the famous Barbie franchise will release a doll next year that is bald in support of children who have cancer and lose their hair in treatment, a Mattel spokesman said Tuesday.

The decision to launch the new doll, which Mattel described as "a friend of Barbie," was made after a massive Facebook appeal drew over 157,000 supporters to the cause of urging the doll-maker to consider a version for sick kids.

The hairless dolls will come with an assortment of wigs, hats, scarves and head coverings and will be available for donation and distribution in early 2013, Mattel said.

They will not appear on store shelves, but will go straight to hospitals treating children with cancer in the United States and Canada.

"We have offered small quantities for our Mattel subsidiaries internationally to provide to charity partners in various other countries," Mattel spokesman Alan Hilowitz said in an email to AFP.

"We made the decision not to sell these dolls at retail stores and profit from them, but rather more directly and immediately get these into the hands of children who can most benefit from a play experience with these dolls."

Hilowitz said Mattel first posted the news on its Facebook page on Thursday, but made no other official announcement.

An appeal for the doll came from a Facebook group called "Beautiful and Bald Barbie," which said it hoped to aid young girls who are struggling with hair loss for medical reasons such as chemotherapy, stress or compulsive disorders.

"We would like to see a Beautiful and Bald Barbie made to help young girls who suffer from hair loss due to cancer treatments, alopecia or trichotillomania," said its mission statement.

"Also, for young girls who are having trouble coping with their mother's hair loss from chemo. Many children have some difficulty accepting their mother, sister, aunt, grandparent or friend going from long-haired to bald."

Mattel said the doll "demonstrates Mattel's commitment to encourage play as a respite for children in the hospital and bring joy to children in need."

The decision was applauded by cancer doctors, including Cori Liptak, a psychologist in the division of pediatric psychosocial services at Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

"A hairless doll could really present a great opportunity for families and medical providers to talk about illness and hair loss with kids facing those issues," Liptak wrote in a blog post.

"It could also be an interactive way for some children to express their emotions about their own medical experience."