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53 with the skin of a 23-year-old: Is skin cell rejuvenation the future of anti-ageing?

The year 2022 will be remembered for many things—for having a record-breaking three UK Prime Ministers, the England women’s national football team (also known as the Lionesses) winning the Women’s EURO, and Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in June being followed by Her Majesty’s passing in September, to name but a few.

Even the beauty industry saw an extraordinary event occur, whereby researchers found a way to reverse ageing. Yes, you read that right—scientists at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge have been able to transform a 53-year-old’s skin cells into that of a 23-year-old’s. So, is the clock finally turning back time on ageing? Let’s take a closer look.

The research behind the science

SCREENSHOT spoke to Doctor Diljeet Gill of the Babraham Institute, who told us that stem cell reprogramming—the process of converting cells into embryonic-like stem cells—is already known to rejuvenate cells. However, it also causes cells to lose their cell type and their ability to perform functions. In other words, up until now, cells could be rejuvenated, but they weren’t able to do anything.

53 with the skin of a 23-year-old: Is skin cell rejuvenation the future of anti-ageing?

“Our research aimed to determine if the reprogramming process could be carried out transiently and whether this would promote rejuvenation while maintaining the cell type,” Dr Gill explained. “We developed a new method (called Maturation Phase Transient Reprogramming) where cells are reprogrammed up to the middle stage of the reprogramming process, and then stopped. This enabled cells to reacquire their original cell type, while rejuvenating multiple attributes by approximately 30 years.”

In this regard, Dr Gill’s team found that more collagen was created, cuts and wounds healed faster, and even witnessed a reverse of ageing in the genes associated with skin conditions and diseases.

53 with the skin of a 23-year-old: Is skin cell rejuvenation the future of anti-ageing?
53 with the skin of a 23-year-old: Is skin cell rejuvenation the future of anti-ageing?
53 with the skin of a 23-year-old: Is skin cell rejuvenation the future of anti-ageing?

Before you get too excited about this possible future anti-ageing process, there are some complications to be ironed out first. The factors that aid the reprogramming of the skin cells can also promote the formation of cancers if they are continuously formed, with Dr Gill expressing that long-term safety and stability is paramount to the research. “Further development of our method will be required so that the reprogramming is safely provided to the cells,” he shared.

What does this research mean for the future of dermatology?

Doctor Iqra Ashraf, an NHS dermatology registrar and trainee representative at the British Association of Dermatologists, thinks that the research holds a promising future for dermatology, although it’s still very much in its early stages.

“There are several potential applications for rejuvenated skin cells in surgical and cosmetic dermatology,” she told SCREENSHOT. “The reprogrammed cells may be used to promote faster wound healing postoperatively, in the management of burns or for treatment of skin conditions such as chronic ulcers, as these tend to heal slowly during the natural ageing process.”

Think about what this research could do to help burn victims, such as TV presenter and activist Katie Piper, who has had more than 400 surgeries, and dancer and model Abbie Quinnen, who suffered second-degree burns on her face and third-degree burns on her body after being caught in a horror fire accident trying to make a ‘life hack’ TikTok video back in January 2021.

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The research method could also be applied to other cell types in order to help treat different areas of the body, with Dr Gill giving the example of rejuvenated liver cells being used to treat liver disease—leading to a world of new possibilities in the beauty, health, and cosmetic sectors.

What can I do to reduce the effects of ageing?

If you want to take matters into your own hands and maintain healthy, youthful-looking skin, Faye Purcell, product development chemist and skincare expert at British beauty brand Q+A, clarified that maintaining collagen levels is key to anti-ageing.

“Collagen is a primary protein that acts like scaffolding in the dermis, helping to maintain a healthy epidermis. Once we reach early adulthood, our collagen production decreases by 1 per cent per year. While this is a slow decline, it means that our face starts to look less plump and youthful and by old age, skin can look thin, start to sag and experience more wrinkles,” she added.

Thanks, but no thanks. So what can we do to keep a tight hold of our collagen? Purcell explained that lifestyle choices such as smoking, a poor diet, UV light exposure, and pollution can all have a negative impact on our collagen levels. One easy thing you can do right now is to start wearing sunscreen every day—yep, even in the winter, as there are always UV rays hitting your skin, which will help to prevent premature ageing. Factor 30 and above is a great place to start.

When it comes to skincare, Purcell added that we should use products that are rich in antioxidants as these help to combat free radicals on the skin, and also highlighted peptides as a great addition to your skincare routine.

“Peptides are made of amino acids, which act as building blocks to form proteins that can significantly increase collagen production,” she commented. “Look for ingredients that stimulate collagen production, instead of just looking for collagen on an ingredient list.” The reason why? Collagen molecules are large, too large in fact to be absorbed by the skin, and so smaller molecules will benefit you most as they can penetrate the skin to stimulate collagen production.

There’s no doubt that collagen is the key factor in anti-ageing, and given that this ground-breaking research has been shown to create more of it, as well as turn back the clock 30 years, is an incredible result.

Dr Ashraf affirmed that she is excited to see what this research will mean for dermatology in future years. “Research in the field of skin cell rejuvenation is ever advancing and I think that this will become much more common in the future as new technologies evolve, and further progress and development in this area is made.”

Crypto billionaire and bioengineer launch new anti-ageing start-up

Though the idea and historic human desire to ‘cure’ ageing has been a prevalent, unwavering topic in our scientific discussions, its virality spiralled following reports of resident billionaire Jeff Bezos funding the anti-ageing venture AltosLabs. Now, much like the billionaire boom in space—the latest being Yusaku Maezawa handing out cash off-planet—anti-ageing has become the new race among the rich. Enter NewLimit and its ambitious co-founders: crypto billionaire Brian Armstrong and bioengineer and tech investor Blake Byers. The company’s goal? To help us live foreverwell, more precisely, to greatly extend our human lifespan.

Often when we think of anti-ageing, our minds instantly conjure up superficial images of wrinkle-free, ageless faces—I mean, we are right in the middle of a boom of Botox after all—but the NewLimit co-founders have something different in mind. For Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, and Byers, who has a PhD in bioengineering from Stanford University, the goal focuses on and prioritises the extension of healthspan as opposed to just lifespan. It’s aim? To improve quality of life in age-related health issues.

“Imagine if you could live the same number of years, but be free from pain, and have the same mobility and cognition as someone in their thirties. If we could maintain this state, how many of us would still want to have our lifespan end at the ‘normal’ time?” the founders stated in a press release last week. “Ageing is one of the largest sources of pain and suffering hiding in plain sight all around us, and we believe there is a moral imperative to try and end this suffering that affects every one of us,” they continued. But will it be available to all of us? We’ll get into that shortly, but first, let’s look at what you’re all here for—the tech.

Though the co-founders acknowledged that the pursuit to ‘cure’ ageing is “ambitious” and will likely take many, many decades to come to successful fruition (if possible), they’ve also added that it is imperative for them to start as soon as possible. NewLimit hopes to do this through epigenetics. But what is it? Epigenetics, as mentioned as part of the press release, is a phenomenon that began 15 years ago—a discovery which showed that “your cells are far more plastic than [previously] assumed.” With as little as four proteins, cells can be completely changed.

Input noted how the founders reference these claims from Nobel Prize-winning research, first published in 2006, that describes these four proteins as “Yamanaka factors” and uses them “to reprogram aged cells into immature cells—creating stem cells, the undifferentiated cells common in embryos, from the plain old issue in your body right now.” This is what NewLimit hopes to utilise in its aim to aid age-related health concerns and bring back the regenerative qualities of our bodies in youth.

“NewLimit plans to initially focus on this mechanism: epigenetic reprogramming. Put simply, we want to figure out a way to restore the regenerative potential we all had when we were younger, but somehow lost. The last year has emphasised this point on a global scale. We still do not know why the elderly have a weaker immune system and are more susceptible to infection and receive less protection from vaccines,” the founders claimed.

The company’s first steps to such programming is to develop the necessary “machine learning models” to understand what changes occur in our bodies with age and how they can be stopped or even reversed. 

Back to that very important question, will this be available to the everyday person or just for the Bezos billionaires of the world? Armstrong and Byers addressed this concern in the same press release. They claim that, like most state-of-the-art breakthrough advancements which often first come with a hefty price tag, the same will occur with NewLimit. However, overtime the cost of anything new drives down and becomes increasingly accessible to everyone. “Some of these products take decades to get to lower costs, but we hope to move much faster than that,” they stated.

The company is still in its infant stages, with its founding team yet to be completely formed. NewLimit is currently on the lookout for like-minded individuals interested in the pursuit and progression of biotech. Who knows? You could be that individual.