Rethinking Healthcare

A vaccine for acne, a pill for wrinkles?

A vaccine for acne, a pill for wrinkles?

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Researchers have looked deep into the biology of pimples and crow's feet to develop treatments made from mice-grown antibodies and a blend of natural food extracts, respectively.

Looks like researchers might have the skin issues of two major life stages covered.

Around the world, the annual market for acne vulgaris therapeutics is over $3 billion.

Last week, the world's biggest vaccine company, sanofi-pasteur, signed a contract with the University of California, San Diego, to develop an ‘immunotherapeutic product’ to prevent and treat acne. New Scientist reports.

Pimples develop when tiny oil-producing glands become clogged. Oxygen levels in the pore drops, and otherwise benign bacteria start killing skin cells in order to break into the blood. Our immune system responds by releasing a local inflammation, bringing white blood cells and germ-killing chemicals over to attack the bacteria. Tada, pimple!

The main culprit is a bacterium that hides in the oil-secreting (sebaceous) glands. Current acne treatments target this Propionibacterium acnes, but long term use of antibacterials builds up drug resistance or kills off normal bacteria.

So, a team led by UCSD’s Chun-Ming Huang found the gene for a protein called CAMP – which bacteria use to kill cells – in the DNA sequence of P. acnes.

  1. They put the gene into young daikon radish plants to make them produce the protein.
  2. They sprayed tiny amounts of ground-up leaves into the noses of mice, which caused them to make antibodies to CAMP.
  3. The antibodies were harvested and added to a colony of P. acnes in a dish. The antibodies bound to CAMP made by the bacteria and prevented their effects.
  4. When these bacteria were put in the skin of a mouse’s ear, they elicited much less inflammation than ordinary P. acnes.

This technique shouldn’t encourage resistant bacteria, nor would it disrupt normal bacteria in healthy skin (which don’t produce CAMP). The team plans to develop antibodies to CAMP that can be delivered using microneedles within the skin.

From one skin thing to another…

The makers of the three-a-day capsules say they used blends of natural food extracts to activate genes that improve skin tone. New Scientist reports.

As women age and estrogen production drops off, an estrogen receptor that helps generate collagen becomes less active and enzymes called proteases become more active – reducing the sponginess of skin by clearing away collagen faster than it’s replaced.

This ‘gene food’ treatment is the work of John Casey's team at the laboratories of Unilever in Sharnbrook, UK.

  1. The team used skin cultures and gene activity tests to figure out the effects of natural food extracts on genes that orchestrate collagen synthesis.
  2. The blend that most strongly activated those genes included vitamins C and E plus isoflavones from soya, lycopene from tomatoes and omega-3 polyunsaturated acids from fish oil.
  3. The company commissioned 4 separate research groups to test the capsules, and 480 post-menopausal women in Europe took part in the trials.

Early results show that within 14 weeks, crow’s feet wrinkles by the corner of the eye became, on average, 10% shallower. They were 30% shallower in the best responders.

Partial results [pdf] were presented last year at the Society for Investigative Dermatology meeting in Atlanta. Unilever plans to launch the product next month in 44 spas it co-owns.

But at least one researcher says we should accept wrinkles gracefully: “Someone should develop a pill to stop people worrying about their appearance.”

Images: pimple popping by dit88 & smiling with crow’s feet by Sindri Jóelsson via Flickr

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure