During a press conference at the 2009 edition of the InCosmetics congress, April 21-23 Munich Germany, L'Oreal presented the contribution to innovation of molecular biology tools regrouped under the generic name "omics". The impressive findings obtained through transcriptomics and proteomics clearly show that "-omics" techniques represent the way forward in cosmetics research.
What exactly is "-omics"?
Let's start with a definition of "-omics". "-Omics" is an English-language neologism originally created to refer to the overall and simultaneous study of the genome. Genomics is therefore the study of all genes, which are the units containing the cellular genetic information carried in DNA. Bioinformaticians and biologists subsequently used this neologism when referring to the study of RNA messages or transcripts (intermediaries between genes and proteins) as a whole, calling it transcriptomics, and to the study of proteins, proteomics.
L'Oréal became involved in the discovery of genes involved in skin beauty and skin aging more than ten years ago, equipping itself with "omic" tools combining molecular biology, information technology and robotics.
Researchers work either on skin tissue taken from young or old volunteers or on reconstructed skin, which perfectly reproduce the different conditions our skin may be experience on a daily basis: dry skin, oily skin, skin damaged by the sun or mechanical stresses.
2D gel and screen results (characterization and quantification of the skin surface proteins)
A molecular signature indicates the condition of the skin beyond its appearance
Imagine two skin samples with an identical appearance: scaly. One of these skin samples may be aged skin and the other may be skin with an inflammatory condition: two completely different causes that need to be treated with different cosmetic approaches, even though the consequences are similar.
Therefore, in order to determine the appropriate treatment, it is essential to understand the origin of the skin condition and to ask questions such as: What factors are brought about by the aging of the skin? What factors result from the oiliness of the skin?
To find answers to these questions, researchers are studying the behaviour of skin cells. The epidermis, the superficial layer of the skin, is made up of several layers of cells called keratinocytes. When the skin is subjected to a mechanical stress, a slight scratch for example, the keratinocytes react to repair the damage. In the nucleus of these cells the repairing genes are activated and produce RNA messages (transcripts) that then provide the proteins required to repair the damaged epidermis. The first transcriptomics studies (the study of all RNA messages produced when the stress occurs) carried out on young and old skin showed that old skin repairs itself differently to young skin. Although some of the genes are activated in both young and old skin, others are specific to either young or old skin. Old skin repairs more slowly than young skin (we experience this as we age, but this technique proves it): in young skin, the repairing genes are activated within six hours of the stress occurring, whereas in old skin they are only activated after 30 hours.
Generally speaking, all transcriptomics studies carried out on skin in a specific state give very precise indications not only of the identity of the genes expressed or suppressed, but also the level of activation and suppression of these genes because the quantity of transcripts is measured. These results represent the molecular signature of the skin being examined.
Another way to study the condition of the skin, particularly the horny layer, is proteomics, a technique that makes it possible to study all the proteins present in a particular skin sample. L'Oréal's researchers have identified 700 proteins. Of these, 80% in the horny layer and 30% in the epidermis have not yet been described. These new findings are covered by numerous patents. Moreover, they have demonstrated that there are characteristic protein signatures for young and old skin.
L'oréal Skin biology Labs
Cosmetics backed with proof
According to Jacques Leclaire: "Transcriptomics and proteomics provide a real barcode for the condition of the skin, whether it is old or young. This surface diagnostic will allow us to adjust our cosmetic approach to achieve the desired effect."
To the extent that these "-omics" techniques focus on transcripts and proteins as a whole and without preconceived notions, the discovery of any new molecular target is possible. Furthermore, the usefulness of these techniques in researching new active ingredients is evident. There will be scope for creating innovative products that contain molecules able to precisely adapt to a certain skin condition or particular signatures. Made-to-measure cosmetics may be closer than we thought.