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Awakening The Skin’s Sleeping Cells

According to researchers, the fountain of youth that has been so long coveted can be discovered by awakening the skin’s sleeping stem cells. While we all like the idea of growing old gracefully, no one wants to look 60 when they are only in their 40’s. This is why your skin is so important. The state of your skin says a lot and it really is a dead give away when it comes to your age.

There is good news when it comes to aging skin though and researchers at the University of Sheffield in Britain say that they have uncovered the secret we have all been searching for. It all has to do with the awakening of sleeping stem cells in the skin. This research which has been conducted in collaboration with The Proctor & Gamble Company (P&F) and published in the Nature Scientific Reports, could actually pave the way for the development of better treatments to fight wrinkles and aging as well as a possible skin cancer therapy.

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According to researchers, they made this discovery after developing a computer model of human skin biology that captured how the outer layers of the skin are developed and maintained over time. The virtual skin was then used to test various popular theories of how skin cells function to regenerate our skin over a three year period. It was discovered that only one theory allowed the virtual skin to fully generate after three years.

This theory says that the skin has a population of sleeping stem cells, which sit in the lowest layer of the skin but don’t constantly divide to make new cells. However, these sleeping stem cells can be called into action if the skin is damaged, or if the numbers of other types of more mature skin cells decrease, ensuring that the skin can be constantly regenerated under all conditions. The model that the researchers used showed that we gradually lose these sleeping stem cells over time which would explain why our ability to regenerate our skin diminishes as we age.

The researchers went on to explain that every time we wake up these stem cells to heal a wound or replenish stocks of other cells, a few of them don’t go back into sleep mode, so the population slowly reduces. This explains why older skin is slower to heal and in part why our skin changes as we age. By understanding this mechanism better, it might be possible to find ways to combat the effects of aging on our skin.

The ability to follow virtual skin models over decades could also be the key to skin cancer research. Environmental damaged caused by factors such as sun exposure can cause sleeping stem cells to harbor the mutations that cause skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, a very aggressive type of skin cancer. The stem cells can harbor mutations over years, but with no effect if they are still in sleep mode. However, when they start to divide to heal a wound for example, this could trigger the cancer. If it’s possible to study this phenomenon over long periods of time, it may be possible to find ways to prevent the activation of mutated cells and in doing so, reduce the risk of developing the disease.

In recent years, there have been many studies designed to find ways to slow skin aging. The use of mesenchymal stem cells derived from the bone marrow have been used for stem cell beauty treatments such as the popular stem cells face lift with great results. Research is continuing and as our technology advances we can be sure to see many more stem cell therapies becoming available.