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Biomarkers may hone anti-aging therapies

Lotions and potions that promise to remove wrinkles and other effects of aging crowd cosmetics aisle shelves, but do these treatments really work?

Vanderbilt University Medical Center investigators have identified new molecular indicators -- or "biomarkers" -- of aging in the skin that could be used to evaluate anti-aging therapies. Their findings are reported in the February issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

"There's a lot of interest in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries in developing products that will minimize or reduce certain signs of aging," said James Sligh Jr., M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine and Cell & Developmental Biology. "The quantifiable biomarkers we've characterized could be useful for monitoring laboratory-simulated aging as well as potential drugs or therapies that alter the aging process."

The new biomarkers are changes to the DNA of cellular organelles called mitochondria. Mitochondria, which have their own DNA that is distinct from the DNA in the cell's nucleus, serve as the "power plants" of the cell. They manufacture energy in the form of the molecule ATP. Energy generation includes, as a byproduct, the production of reactive oxygen species, which can damage the DNA present in mitochondria, Sligh said.

Some theories of cellular aging -- why and how cells age -- center on mitochondria and decreased energetic capacity resulting from mitochondrial DNA mutations, Sligh explained. In addition, mutations in mitochondrial DNA have been associated with tumor development.

"We initiated this project with the idea that perhaps there was a specific mitochondrial DNA deletion signature that would be associated with tumor development in the skin," Sligh said.

The investigators searched for mitochondrial DNA deletion mutations in skin samples from patients having non-melanoma skin cancer removed in the Vanderbilt Mohs Clinic. Mohs micrographic surgery is a treatment for
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Source:Vanderbilt University Medical Center


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