You don’t need a microscope to recognize aging skin. Aging skin has fine lines and wrinkles; it sags because it has lost elasticity; it is discolored and blotchy. But if you did look at aging skin under a microscope, you would notice that it lacks collagen, elastin, and many other helpful proteins. There would be many old cells and a few young ones. Indeed, old skin looks different under a microscope than new skin, and it is these differences at the cellular level that causes the aging we see on people’s faces.
Fortunately, these cellular changes may not be a curse. Stem cell therapy may be able to replace the proteins that are lost during aging and replace old cells with newer, healthier cells. In short, stem cell therapy may be able to can rejuvenate facial skin and reverse the signs of aging.
The team of Korean stem cell researchers recently completed a study in which they collected mesenchymal stem cells from various sources and used them to rejuvenate human skin. The researchers collected stem cells from fat tissue (adipose), bone marrow, and umbilical cord samples. Umbilical cord tissue is tissue that is normally discarded after childbirth as medical waste. In the laboratory, the scientists then cleaned and purified each of these types of mesenchymal stem cells.
In laboratory studies, the researchers found that mesenchymal stem cells produced substantial amounts of skin rejuvenating factors including collagen type I, collagen type IV, fibronectin, and elastin. Interestingly, they found that umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells produced a 100-fold greater amount of GDF-11 than adipose or bone marrow stem cells. This is important because GDF-11 is a cytokine that stimulates the production of collagen and elastin. GDF-11 also attracts human dermal fibroblasts (i.e. healthy skin cells) that then, in turn, produce their own collagen and elastin. These substances make skin healthy, elastic, vibrant, plump, and full.
Given the remarkable amounts of GDF-11 that umbilical cord-derived stem cells produced, the researchers decided to conduct a clinical trial to test the effect of these cells on aging skin. The scientists created a cream that contained the substances produced by the stem cells, including exosomes and beneficial proteins. The women who volunteered for the study applied the cream to their faces once per day. Within 2 to 4 weeks, the women had increased skin density (i.e. thickness/fullness) and substantially reduced wrinkles, especially around the eyes. Moreover, treatment with the stem cell-derived cream did not cause irritation, stinging, or any other adverse reaction.
This clinical study will need to be repeated in larger numbers of volunteers; however, the results are quite remarkable. Researchers were able to collect stem cells from umbilical cord tissue and prepare a cosmetic that reversed some of the signs of facial aging. Conveniently, this treatment did not require injections but could be applied topically. If future research confirms this work, treatment with a cosmetic/cosmeceutical made from umbilical cord stem cells could be a painless way to achieve facial skin rejuvenation.
Reference: Kim, YJ. (2018). Conditioned media from human umbilical cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells stimulate rejuvenation function in human skin. Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports. 2018 Oct 25;16:96-102.