A new scientific study may mean the end of age-defining wrinkles, as well as common skin infections. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, helped identify a unique cell found deep in the skin that produces connective tissue, allowing the skin to recover from damage.
The cells, called dermal fibroblasts, can transform into fat cells if placed below the dermis, smoothing out pesky wrinkles and promoting a peptide that fights skin infections. The study published in Immunity revealed how fibroblasts become fat cells and enable the skin to stop aging.
“We have discovered how the skin loses the ability to form fat during aging,” says Richard Gallo, chair of the Department of Dermatology at UC San Diego School of Medicine and senior author of the study. “Loss of the ability of fibroblasts to convert into fat affects how the skin fights infections and will influence how the skin looks during aging.”
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Experts warn though that the fat below the skin is not the result of being overweight, rather a protein that controls cellular functions, known as transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β), which prevents dermal fibroblasts from developing into fat cells and blocks the cells from generating an antimicrobial peptide that protects against bacterial infections.
“Babies have a lot of this type of fat under the skin, making their skin inherently good at fighting some types of infections. Aged dermal fibroblasts lose this ability and the capacity to form fat under the skin,” says Gallo. “Skin with a layer of fat under it looks more youthful. When we age, the appearance of the skin has a lot to do with the loss of fat.”
When tested in mice, researchers blocked the TGF-β pathway by using chemical blockers, which resulted in the skin appearing younger by enabling dermal fibroblasts to transform into fat cells. The same results were achieved when the pathway was blocked genetically in mice. By recognizing how the biological process affects the loss of these age-related fat cells, researchers may also develop means to fight skin infections like Staphylococcus aureus, which can result in illnesses like skin infections, pneumonia, meningitis, toxic shock syndrome and sepsis, among many others.
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Staph infections that are antibiotic resistant are called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA and are a leading cause of death due to infection. The hope is that this research will allow us to better understand the immune system in children as well as diseases like obesity, diabetes and autoimmune disorders, Gallo says.
These innovations could spell doom for the global anti-aging industry, which was worth an estimated $42.51 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $55.03 Billion by 2023. North America is a goldmine for the anti-aging market due to a high awareness of signs of aging and rising obesity. Asia is not far behind, as new anti-aging services, products and devices are rapidly approved in this region.