BY LISA WILLIAMS
As the worlds of beauty and cutting-edge science become increasingly intertwined by the minute, the role that our genes play in healthy, youthful skin has never been clearer.
THE BENJAMIN BUTTON EFFECT
At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, scientists researched a way to reverse the visible aging process. Published Friday in Cell Death & Disease, the team revealed its process to turn off the mutation that causes symptoms of aging in mice.
In cells, 90 percent of the chemical energy cells use to survive is created by the mitochondria. As humans age, their mitochondrial function declines. This can cause many symptoms of growing older, like wrinkles and hair loss. When mitochondrial DNA is lost, scientists think it can cause diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and neurological disorders that stem from age.
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But when the gene mutation was switched off, and normal mitochondrial function was restored, the mice lost their wrinkles and regrew their youthful coats to stunning effect. This research shows that not only are mitochondria a key component in causes symptoms of aging, but also the symptoms that mitochondria cause can be reversed by reviving the mitochondria back to their original function. While humans are still a ways off from having access to this, it lays the groundwork for potential therapeutic and preventive drugs down the line.
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YOUTH FIX: Even if we are years away from a drug that can switch our mitochondria on and off, there are certain keys to slowing DNA damage and reversing the age-related damage we have accumulated in our skin. PDRN (aka polydeoxyribonucelotide) is a protein that can help speed up skin healing, according to research. This helps pave the way for restoring the youth and integrity of the skin even as one ages. PDRN can be administered in the form of microinjections for an anti-aging effect or as a topical infusion. Either way, the holy grail of youthful skin is not far off.
HAIR TODAY, HAIR TOMORROW
UCLA researchers have discovered a new way to activate the stem cells in the hair follicle to make hair grow. The research published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, led by scientists Heather Christofk and William Lowry, may lead to new drugs that could promote hair growth for people with baldness or alopecia, which is hair loss associated with such factors as hormonal imbalance, stress, aging or chemotherapy treatment.
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Hair follicle stem cells are long-lived cells in the hair follicle; they are present in the skin and produce hair throughout a person’s lifetime. They are “quiescent,” meaning they are normally inactive, but they quickly activate during a new hair cycle, which is when new hair growth occurs. The quiescence of hair follicle stem cells is regulated by many factors. In certain cases they fail to activate, which is what causes hair loss.
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In this study, scientists found that hair follicle stem cell metabolism is different from other cells of the skin.
The research team increased lactate production genetically in the mice and this accelerated hair follicle stem cell activation, increasing the hair cycle. The team identified two drugs that, when applied to the skin of mice, influenced hair follicle stem cells in distinct ways to promote lactate production. The first drug, called RCGD423, activates a cellular signaling pathway called JAK-Stat, which transmits information from outside the cell to the nucleus of the cell. The research showed that JAK-Stat activation leads to the increased production of lactate and this in turn drives hair follicle stem cell activation and quicker hair growth. The other drug, called UK5099, blocks pyruvate from entering the mitochondria, which forces the production of lactate in the hair follicle stem cells and accelerates hair growth in mice.
The experimental drugs described above were used in pre-clinical tests only and have not been tested in humans or approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective for use in humans.
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YOUTH FIX: While more trials are needed to convert these experimental drugs into a reality, there are some cutting edge options already on the market to slow down hair loss and reverse initial stages of balding. Scientists have found success using follicular germ cells extracted from patients’ scalp to ‘seed’ or ‘clone’ new hair growth. Results have been promising, with new hair formation seen about 4-6 weeks after a single session.
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