Cardiovascular disease researchers developing anti-aging skin treatment

UBC Pathology and Laboratory Medicine professor David Granville made a chance discovery that may lead to the creation of a drug to defy skin aging.

Granville researched the effects of Granzyme-B (GzmB) on atherosclerosis, an artery disease, and heart attacks. His research coincidentally found resistance to skin aging.

“Essentially, my research is focused on aging and blood vessel health in the context of atherosclerosis, which causes heart attacks and strokes," said Granville. “As we aged mice, when this gene was knocked out, we were finding an unusually good benefit to the skin.”

According to Granville, skin with more GzmB looked older in the experimented upon mice, while skin with less of the enzyme looked younger.

“It is one of those exciting times as a basic scientist. Sometimes, this is ignored," said Granville. “In research these days, there are these sort of serendipitous discoveries in different areas that were unexpected.”

Granville said that sunlight causes 80 to 90 per cent of aging in the skin.

"We wanted to study this in more detail because a study had come out showing that Granzyme-B could be induced by ultraviolet light in skin cells.”

Granville's research team worked with experts in the biological application of engineering principles to develop a solar-simulated light box, using bulbs that mimic the ratios of ultraviolet radiation in sunlight.

“We exposed the mice for 20 weeks, just three times a week, to very low levels of sunlight,” Granville said. “They were exposed to three minutes of light. Temperature is all regulated, so [it] did not go up.”

“We looked at the skin. There was a marked difference in wrinkling that was evident on the mice with Granzyme-B compared to those without Granzyme-B,” Granville said.

He explained skin aging in further detail, pointing out that the skin's collagen becomes “lost and disorganized," and its quality becomes reduced.

According to Granville, many cosmetics simply throw collagen at the skin in hopes of restoration of the aged skin. He said this is ultimately ineffective.

“The body produces collagen and assembles it in a sort of basket-woven form, very similar to looking at a blanket. That requires other proteins as well. Obviously, things that would hold it together like the nails and brackets that would hold together a wall,” he said.

Granville's research may allow for the creation of a drug that could block the aging enzyme. He formed viDA Therapeutics, Inc. in 2008 to research and make such a product.

“We’re excited about the fact that if we inhibit the Granzyme-B, we could inhibit this degradation and loss of organization of the collagen that holds the skin intact.”

Granville said there are also important health implications of GzmB.

“With respect to people in long-term care facilities, I’ve been working with the wound-healing clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital,” Granville said. “We’re hoping that by inhibiting this, and allowing, we might be able to increase the tensile strength of skin and prevent this skin tearing that occurs, plagues these patients in long-term care facilities.”

Granville hopes his research will be used for benefits beyond better-looking skin.

“We’re not hoping to become cosmetic experts,” he said.