|Imagine if you can recommend skincare products specifically suited to your clients genetic make- up, or perform skin treatments using precise modalities determined by their DNA. It may sound like something from science fiction, but thanks to research by SkinDNA International - in the field of DNA Science - it has not only become a reality, but is becoming a vital tool in changing the way we treat the aging skin.
Thanks to recent advancements in the field of DNA science, it has now become possible to take a genetic test to assess an individuals DNA; revealing their genetic propensity to intrinsic skin aging. This information can be used to empower individuals to make health promoting lifestyle and dietary changes, and help skin professionals everywhere to make more informed treatment choices.
The practice of cosmetic medicine has been marked by several great technological innovations in the last century. The 1958 invention of Laser optics in the field of physics for example, eventually transformed the face of cosmetic medicine. The use of Botulinum Toxin in Ophthalmology first in the 1960ʼs – little would we have known at the time – would go on to become a standard worldwide treatment for dynamic facial wrinkles. Like most innovations, each of these occurred in external scientific disciplines which eventually transferred into ours.
The field of cosmetic medicine is now on the brink of another great technological innovation that is destined to change the way we treat aging skin - through DNA science.
Our discipline and our industry has long been focused on the maintenance of youth, or at least of a youthful-looking appearance. This has important utility for our patients, because a youthful-looking skin is significant in interpersonal contact and in personal satisfaction. Recognizing this, there has been extensive efforts into researching and documenting the age-related changes of the skin: thinning, exaggerated expression lines, enlarged pores, wrinkling, and this list goes on. But whatʼs been missing is a proper understanding of the intrinsic molecular mechanisms involved with these processes.
Through DNA Science we know that a single gene consists of a unique sequence of DNA that provides the complete set of instructions to make a protein. Genes instruct cells to make sets of proteins at just the right times, and it is through this specificity that our uniqueness arises.
The concept of uniqueness is important because even though the DNA of any two individuals is more than 99.8% identical, everyone is genetically unique. The crucial difference lies in the remaining 0.2% differences most typically represented as variations known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms or (SNPs pronounced ʻsnipsʼ). DNA Science has helped to identify that many of these SNPs have been associated with an increased risk of disease including breast cancer, melanoma and diabetes - to name a few. But the influence of SNPs doesn't stop with disease, they determine most of our personal characteristics - everything from the colour and thickness of our hair to the shape of our nose and, as recently discovered, the youth and vitality of our skin.
WHAT OUR GENES CAN TELL USANSWERS FROM THE HUMAN GENOME:
That is where findings from the global SkinDNA research collaboration led by Australian pharmaco genomics company SkinDNA International comes in. The Collaboration of geneticists, cosmetic physicians, skin scientists, and volunteer study participants commenced their work in 2006 with two principle objectives: (1) To identify the genetic factors that contribute to age-related changes in the skin; and (2) to identify actionable pathways available for each of those genetic factors in order to help each and every individual worldwide preserve a more youthful looking skin.
The research profiled the action of more that 6800 genes and - using genome wide association studies - they discovered more than 200 abnormal gene traits in the form of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) implicated in the health and wellbeing of our skin. Most significant was the prevalence of some of these SNPs and the effect that had on the skin.
Some of the following results were reported:
- 30% of the adult population were found to have a specific 2G2G variation in the Matrix Metalloproteinase-1 gene increasing their predisposition to excessive collagen breakdown.
- Polymorphisms in the ERC22 and ASIP genes having a population prevalence of 27% and 23% respectively were associated with increased sensitivity to sunlight and heightened sunlight-induced skin damage; and
- 52% of the adult population carried a variation in the SOD2 gene, which reduced the activity of one of the bodyʼs most powerful antioxidants, Superoxide Dismutase, by 40%. The decreased activity in this gene was shown to increase our skin cellʼs susceptibility to oxidative stress, a problem that can result in wrinkling, pigmentation, premature aging and other skin problems.
THE FIVE CELLULAR AGING PROCESSES
The genes tested were catalogued according to the structural, functional and metabolic effects they had on the skin. Together with knowledge of the molecular events that underlie the aging, the researchers were able to identify five cellular processes involved in skin aging. These can be described broadly as collagen breakdown, photo defence, oxidation, inflammation and glycation - each one of which is controlled by a specific group of genes. A polymorphism in any one of these genes was found to change its molecular activity and resulted in the skinʼs abnormal aging process.
Keeping the skin firm, plump and wrinkle-free, Collagen is the principle structural protein of the skin. Like many components of the body, collagen undergoes continuous turnover, being produced and recycled on an ongoing basis throughout ones life. At a younger age, the body makes more collagen than it loses, but after about the age of 40, collagen loss can accelerate, leading to a decline in the health and appearance of your skin.
Key variations in our genes help to identify weather the synthesis and degradation of collagen is in balance, or if the breakdown of collagen predominates - which results in the appearance of premature wrinkling, aging and sagging of the skin.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun accounts for 90% of the symptoms of early skin aging, skin damage, and skin cancer. Every time your skin is exposed to UV light, skin damage occurs. The cumulative effect of repeated sun damage causes epidermal DNA damage, persistent inflammation, and oxidative stress, negatively affecting the health and appearance of your skin.
Genetics were shown to play an important role in determining how well our skin can naturally cope under the strains of the sun.
The oxidation process starts with free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive short lived molecules that can damage virtually any molecule in our body – including the important cellular structures found in the bodyʼs largest organ - the skin. The amount of antioxidants in your body is directly proportional to the healthy long term appearance of your skin. A number of skin related genetic variations have been found to alter the production of antioxidant protecting molecules.
Inflammation is the bodyʼs short-term immune response for healing and countering infection and foreign substances like germs, bacteria, allergens, and toxins. Without inflammation your skin would not have the ability to protect itself or heal.
Sometimes the body can over compensate and release too many inflammatory proteins to take care of an issue that only require few - this type of trauma caused by a constant over supply of inflammation dramatically ages the skin. While it is a helpful response in the short term, if inflammation continues on-going, it can play a negative role. Often subtle, the signs include skin sensitivity, redness and irritation. Genetic variations were identified to increase the over production
of inflammation resulting in prolonged irritation, increased redness, and enhanced sensitivity to environmental pollutants and everyday chemicals.
Causing Collagen and Elastin fibers to lose their ability to function normally, Glycation is heavily implicated in accelerated skin aging. Glucose is the sugar your body uses as its main source of fuel. If not metabolized properly, glucose can bind to your skinʼs collagen and elastin fibers, forming abnormal chemical bridges that cause tissue damage. This process, called glycation, causes your skin to become rigid and lose elasticity. Glycation also impairs your skinʼs ability to regenerate, which leads to skin laxity, cracking, thinning, redness, and inability to self-repair.
Genetic variations play a key role in preventing glycation of your skin. These variations were found to alter your bodyʼs ability to maintain normal glucose levels and interfere with energy metabolism, both of which lead to glycation.
Stay tuned for Part TWO of this article!
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