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Glycobiology Sheds Light on Scar Prevention and Scar Removal

by: Martha Fitzharris
Glycobiology is a relatively new branch in science, which attempts to understand how sugars in the body -called glycans- contribute to human health and contain information as necessary to define the complexity of life as that of DNA and proteins, and now sheds light on the treatment and removal of skin scars and the prevention of skin tissue damage that occurs during fitness or body building exercises, and also on how the process of healthy skin renewal can be enhanced.

Glyco means “sweet” and refers to monosaccharides, or sugars. The role of carbohydrates (sugars) in energy production has been long understood. However, their additional, crucial role in orchestrating the healthy structure and function of the body is a relatively new discovery that is the subject of a new bourgeoning field of science called the sweet science of glycobiology.

Proteoglycans and Glycosaminoglycans are active regulators of cell function, participate in cell-matrix interactions and play an important biological role in fibroblast proliferation, differentiation and migration by effectively modulating the expression of the genetic endowment of cells.

Fibroblast is a type of cell that synthesizes collagen (an insoluble protein), glycosaminoglycans (complex carbohydrate chains), reticular and elastic fibers, and glycoprotein molecules that are found in the extracellular matrix. In growing individuals fibroblasts are dividing and synthesizing ground substances in al types of tissues.

The main function of fibroblasts is to maintain the structural integrity of connective tissue by continuously secreting the precursors of all the components of the extracellular matrix. The composition of the extracellular matrix determines the physical properties of connective tissues. Proteoglycans (proteins bound to glycosaminoglycans) bind multiple components of the extracellular matrix by serving as important regulators of cell behavior.

Tissue damage stimulates fibrocytes and induces migration and readily proliferation of fibroblasts in multiple stages of tissue repair including wound contraction. Fibroblasts can give rise to other cells, such as bone cells, fat cells, and smooth muscle cells. All those are cells of mesodermal origin, which means a layer from which the organs and tissues of the body develop through further differentiation.

Fibroblasts, their growth factors and receptors are critical in wound healing as such dynamic process is interactive and depends on proper regulation of fibroblasts. Without regulation excessive scarring results as a feature of impaired healing (keloid and hypertrophic scars), a serious health problem that most of the time affects people’s quality of life for the treatment cost of such lesions is high, and often, the results are unsatisfactory. (See references below).

Also various types of matrix metalloproteinases (collagenase and gelatinase enzymes MMP) are selectively expressed or activated at the various periods of wound healing and determine the presence or absence of abnormal scars: keloids or hypertrophic scars.

The collagenase and gelatinase enzymes are groups of zinc-dependent enzymes, which degrade several components of the extracellular skin matrix in both normal and diseased tissue. The skin matrix is a framework that holds our skin together and consists mainly of intermeshed polymers such as collagen and elastin. This matrix is responsible for the skin’s mechanical properties, which includes firmness, strength, suppleness, and elasticity. The weaker and more irregular the matrix, the more wrinkles, roughness, and sagging. Whenever skin is damaged, malformed or worn out, skin matrix is broken down by these enzymes and is then synthesized by the fibroblasts.

Therefore, these enzymes play a critical role in skin physiology. In healthy, youthful skin, the synthesis and degradation of the matrix are in balance; damaged or redundant matrix is degraded while the deficit is replenished by the ongoing synthesis. While as we age the intricate balance gets disrupted; too little of the matrix is synthesized and too much is degraded. Research indicates that reversal to normal youthful levels of the enzymes in aged individuals is an effective method to remove the damaged matrix and preserve the healthy one. For this purpose, the utilization of enzyme inhibitors or regulators in the form of drugs, cosmetic formulations, and lifestyle changes is the new cosmetic find.

One surprising source of such enzyme regulators is the secretions of land snails that they use to protect and repair their skin when damaged. Now available in the form of a new cosmetic product for scar prevention, scar treatment and scar removal. (see the author’s website for details).

Reference 1: Fibroblast growth factors in epithelial repair and cytoprotection. Institute of Cell Biology, Department of Biology, ETH Zurich, Honggerberg, CH-8093 Zurich, Switzerland. April 2004.

Fibroblast growth factors act specifically on various types of epithelial cells including keratinocytes of the skin, intestinal epithelial cells and hepatocytes. In addition, some types of Fibroblast Growth Factor have been shown to be more than growth factors: they can protect epithelial cells from damaging effects induced, for example, by radiation and oxidative stress. Therefore, they are currently in clinical trials for the treatment of oral mucositis, a severe side-effect of cancer therapy characterized by painful inflammation and ulceration of the oral epithelium.

Reference 2: Clinical Efficacy of A SNAL SECRETION for the Prevention and Treatment of Acute Radiodermatitis. GICOR, Coordinator M. Santos, MD Anderson. Preliminary results presented at the last AERO Congress (Congreso de la Sociedad Espanola de Radioterapia y Oncologia), Las Palmas, 2003.

This research accounts for the fact that land snails secrete mucous when exposed to ionizing radiation (X ray and gamma radiation) to protect themseves from degenerative effects.

Biochemical analysis of the snail mucous shows it contains complex glycoconjugate molecules made mainly of sulfated sugar or carbohydrate chains, globular soluble proteins, uronic acids and oligoelements (copper, zinc, calcium and iron).

The study concludes that the snail secretion has fibroblast growth factor activity and helps achieve the correct balance between the synthesis and degradation of important structural elements such as collagen, and thus helps to avoid excessive scarring and promotes healthy skin renewal.

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