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article imageEssential Science: Methylene Blue as an anti-aging treatment

By Tim Sandle     Jun 5, 2017 in Science
Aging is inevitable for living organisms and part of the course of life. With modern medicine life expectancy can be extended and there are various ‘tricks’ to give the appearance of not aging. But is true slowing down of aging possible?
The fountain of youth may be a matter for mythology; however, considerable scientific research goes into seeing whether the aging process can be slowed down. A discovery that had any kind of ‘true’ anti-aging effect (as opposed to questionable anti-wrinkle creams) would represent a major step forwards in scientific understanding as well as being, if it could be commercialized, highly lucrative.
The openings of an anti-aging treatment could exist with a chemical called methylene blue. As well as a stain for the microscopic examination of fungi, methylene blue is a common and relatively inexpensive antioxidant. The chemical has been used in the clinical treatment of many ailments, but not, until now anti-aging.
The possible breakthrough comes from the University of Maryland and here researchers have been investigating the effect of methylene blue on human skin.
Methylene blue
Methylene blue (methylthioninium chloride) is both a medication and dye. As a medication it is used to treat methemoglobinemia (a blood disease leading to shortness of breath). In the past it was used for cyanide poisoning and urinary tract infections. When required medically, the drug is administered by injection into a vein.
With people aging (sometimes spelled ‘ageing’) represents the accumulation of changes in a person over time. These changes include the physical, psychological, and social. Variations are seen with things like reaction time as well as physical changes, especially to the skin.
Speaking with Science Alert, lead researcher Kan Cao explains about the research: “Our work suggests that methylene blue could be a powerful antioxidant for use in skin care products.”
So far interesting, but there are plenty of skin care products on the market. However, Dr. Cao drops in the key difference: "The effects we are seeing are not temporary. Methylene blue appears to make fundamental, long-term changes to skin cells.”
To demonstrate this, the researchers exposed healthy and diseased skin cells, taken from middle-aged patients, to methylene blue together with three other established chemicals known to function as antioxidants. The experimental work showed that the methylene blue was superior to the other chemicals at improving the symptoms of aging in both the healthy and diseased skin cells.
With the diseased cells, these were affected by progeria. Progeria is an extremely rare genetic disorder in which symptoms resembling aspects of aging are manifested at a very early age. Those born with progeria typically live to their mid-teens to early twenties.
With both types of skin cell the researchers noted a reduction in cell death, as well as a decrease in deleterious relative oxygen species, and an increase in cell division in skin cells called fibroblasts. A fibroblast is a type of cell that synthesizes the extracellular matrix and collagen.
For further study Dr. Cao exposed fibroblasts from donors over age 80 to methylene blue. The exposure was over a four week period. As with the earlier work, improvements were noted. Further analysis revealed a reduction in the expression of two genes that are commonly used to indicate aging in cells. These genes are termed senescence-associated beta-galactosidase and p16.
While the process demonstrates considerable attention, further research is required and no tests have yet been undertaken on people. The following video explains more about the research:
The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports, under the heading “Anti-Aging Potentials of Methylene Blue for Human Skin Longevity.”
Essential Science
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we explored the use of bioelectricity as a powerful way of killing pathogenic bacteria. The week before we looked at how nanotechnology can be used to rapidly and non-invasively treat broken bones.
More about Aging, Ageing, Elderly, cell biology, Cells
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