By Brian McGleenon, a journalist who has worked for Fuji Television, The Daily Express, The Independent, KBS and Pear Video.
Researchers have developed a rejuvenating gene therapy for human skin that has the potential to make “ageing a reversible phenomenon.” RT spoke to the lead scientist, Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho, about the astonishing breakthrough.
Scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have discovered a way to make skin cells “grow younger.” They claim the original technique can be used to “reverse the ageing process and prevent diseases related to ageing and prolong life span.”
Speaking to RT from KAIST University, Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho, the lead scientist in the study, said seeing the revitalized skin in the laboratory was “dramatic,” and added that the newly discovered technique “applies not only to human skin but also to our whole body.”
Professor Cho described his newly developed technique as “opening the door for a new generation that perceives ageing as a reversible biological phenomenon.” It relies on using chemical inhibition and gene interference to “switch off” a molecule that makes cells grow old. The ageing of a cell is called cell senescence. The researchers were able to “reawaken” skin cells in the lab and rejuvenate their ability to repair and divide into newer versions of themselves.
The results showed that the overall functionality of skin tissue was regenerated, giving the skin a healthy amount of collagen and elastic fibers, ridding the tissue of wrinkles. The promise of the technique could see an end to the ravages of age like dryness, creases, loss of elasticity and thinning skin.
Cashing in on younger skin
Obviously, South Korea’s booming cosmetic surgery industry is keen to exploit any new medicine that promises to make slack jawlines, age spots, and wrinkled foreheads a thing of the past. They know its value can only increase because the world’s aged population is at its highest level in human history. With an estimated 700 million people over 60, the desire to be forever young can only intensify.
Seoul-based cosmetics company Amorepacific is already on the case and has begun to develop the technology further with assistance from the scientists from KAIST. Director of research and development at Amorepacific, Park Won-Seok, said this joint research allowed the company to see if the technique had the potential “to reverse the ageing process in the skin.” He added that his corporation will continue to build on the research to “improve the progress of ageing that was previously thought impossible.” Amorepacific is already seeing the benefits of this collaboration with its share price rising steadily since the announcement in late November.
Masks up = nip and tuck
The world’s fixation with outward appearances has been amplified by our addiction to social media sites like Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram. South Korea could top the leaderboard for today’s ‘beauty-sick’ culture. The term ‘beauty-sick’ was coined by US psychologist professor Renee Engeln, who described a growing tendency to place beauty at the top of an individual’s personal agenda. Meaning people will commit more money, resources, and time towards their appearance than is healthy.
Fixation on beauty above all has reached epidemic proportions in South Korea, particularly affecting women, but also a growing number of younger men thanks to the popularity of porcelain-faced boybands like BTS. There has been a surge in demand for cosmetic surgery throughout the coronavirus pandemic with many Koreans using their Covid-19 stimulus handouts for a little nip and tuck. Aesthetic perfection seekers are taking advantage of mandatory face masks and stay at home orders, viewing them as the perfect opportunity to have some work done. Statistics from 2019 by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) revealed South Korea has the highest density of plastic surgeons in the world, where an estimated 60 percent of females in their 20s have had a cosmetic procedure.
Are there any drawbacks?
As uncontrolled cell division could lead to the formation of malignant tumors, I asked Professor Cho if there were any fears that “reawakening” senescent cells could cause cancer. He said that these genetically edited skin cells will be able to renew, without turning cancerous, telling me that his experiments revealed that the “cells proliferated safely upon external growth signals.” When no external growth signals were received, the cells “died by apoptosis.” Apoptosis is the programmed cell death that happens naturally when the human body is in its early development phase. In this way, he says the skin will not have an accumulation of “senescent cells”‘ that can cause inflammation to their surroundings.
But those hoping to roll back the wrinkles with Professor Cho’s miracle cure will have to have deep pockets. He said that there could be a significant cost in bringing the current procedure to the stage where it can be used in surgeries. His new approach could be market-ready within “five to seven years, depending on the success of future experiments.” However, he claims that by then “it would be able to replace the current plastic surgery for mitigating wrinkles.” Perhaps even more excitingly, with more development, the method may also “reverse muscle loss and brain deterioration” and could even be used as an “anti-cancer therapy.”
However, the cost factor involved could accentuate the growing divide between the rich and the poor, not to mention blurring the distinction between the young and the old. Conjuring up of images of grandmothers whose youthful facades are the envy of their granddaughters. Or two pensioners meeting, one carrying the deep creases of age, the other flaunting the porcelain skin of a K-pop singer.
This revolutionary new technique may restore the face to its former youth, but will it repair the fragility and insecurity of the person beneath?
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