Moisturizer Could Treat Skin Cancer
By on July 8th, 2012

A new multi-purpose moisturizer may be the new kid on the cosmetics block. Besides keeping your skin healthy, it might just cure skin cancer.

Topical applications of medicines have been particularly difficult to administer because of the lack of penetration of molecules through the skin. Large proteins, for instance, do not enter the skin easily. Researchers at Northwestern University have now devised nanoparticles containing molecules called siRNA which can penetrate the outer layer of the skin and regulate some genes that play a role in skin cancer. These nanoparticles are as small as one-thousandth of the diameter of a human hair. They can be mixed with moisturizer prior to application.

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Molecules Targeting Skin Cancer Proteins

siRNA (small interfering RNA) molecules belong to the nucleic acid family (like its cousin DNA). These are short linear fragments that bind to intermediates of a specific protein in cells and prevent the intermediate from being converted to the protein. Thus, even if you have a defective gene that produces a toxic protein in your body, you could inject siRNA that could suppress the production of this protein.

Increased Penetration and No Toxicity

The nanoparticles used in this research are small gold cores coated with a shell of siRNAs. The siRNAs used target the gene Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR), which is a major regulator of cellular pathways in the skin. They found a 100% penetration of these nanoparticles in vitro (i.e. in lab conditions), and found a 52% reduction in the expression of EGFR in human skin cells. What was as important was that samples showed no signs of toxicity or inflammation in response to these particles, which means that cells did not react adversely to them.

Since these are delivered directly through the skin, the nanoparticles are less likely to affect other cells and thus have fewer chances of side-effects. With the right targets and the right siRNAs, treating skin cancer could get much easier in the future.

Author: Shweta Ramdas
Beginning life as a grad student studying human genetics.

Shweta Ramdas has written and can be contacted at

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