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July 13th, 2012
The cosmetics industry has long touted creams that miraculously penetrate the skin to renew and invigorate, but generally speaking, the skin is a rather tough barrier that resists all kinds of invaders—including many medicines and quite a few supposed cosmetic wonders. Now, however, new research by a team at Northwestern University points toward genetic therapy that could be delivered simply by spreading on a cream, according to a report in Popular Science. Researchers Amy S. Paller and Chad Mirkin suggest that skin-related disorders could be treated using a cream containing nanoscale compounds that pass through the epidermis to adjust the patient's DNA. Treatments could include guarding against certain types of skin cancers. The new technology relies on agglomerations of nucleic acids, according to the report, each of which is about 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Once through the skin and into the cells, the nucleic acids can turn off specific disease-causing genes. The acid agglomerations are really small interfering RNA, also called siRNA, which can regulate gene activity. These compounds are highly customizable and can be programmed to target a specific gene. To date the researchers have tested their new technology on mice and on human skin, and found no side effects after one month. You can read the researchers' statement here, view the original Popular Science article here, and check out the original research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.