A breakthrough in the study of human skin cells could lead the way for powerful and effective anti-aging treatments and cancer-fighting drugs, new research from the United Kingdom has revealed.

Researchers from Newcastle University said that it has been shown for the first time that the mitochondrial complex II, a metabolic enzyme located in cell batteries called the mitochondria, significantly declines as people age. This enzyme is important to keep skin smooth, supple, and youthful-looking.

Molecular dermatology professor Mark Birch-Machin led the study.

“As our bodies age we see that the batteries in our cells run down, known as decreased bio-energy, and harmful free radicals increase,” he explains, adding that this process can easily lead to wrinkles, fine lines and sagging of skin.

As age increases, the power and activity of the enzyme – acting as the “hinge” between the two crucial ways to produce energy in cells – decreases as well. This discovery serves as a biomarker for creating anti-aging treatments and cosmetics that may counter the decline in skin cell energy.

The treatments, added Birch-Machin, can be tailored to different skin aging and pigmentations, as well as also benefit the development of drugs for age-related conditions such as cancer.

The study measured complex II activity in 27 individuals ages 6 to 72, with samples from sun-protected skin areas. The researchers then measured the activity of key mitochondrial enzymes involved in energy production in skin cells.

For the first time, it was discovered that complex II substantially deteriorated with age in the cells obtained from the dermis (lower layer) instead of the epidermis (upper layer) of skin, mainly because there is a reduced amount of enzyme protein. In addition, the decrease was seen only in cells that no longer proliferate.

In a recent mice study, complex II activity was also found to be lower in the skin of older mice than in younger ones.

The mitochondria had long been thought to play a crucial role in the aging process, but it is only now that science sheds light on how this may exactly work.

The findings were published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

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