A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have shown that a topical therapy applied before radiation exposure—such as exposure related to photoaging or cancer radiotherapy—can prevent cutaneous damage in both a human skin model and an animal model.
Published in Journal of Investigative Dermatology (Oct. 26, 2016, online ahead of print), the research was aimed at seeing if reducing the reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the irradiated skin by targeting a redox cycling nitroxide to mitochondria would reduce oxidative damage to the skin and protect the function of the mitochondria.
“During the course of radiation therapy, patients can develop irritating and painful skin burns that can lead to dangerous infections and diminished quality of life,” Dr. Louis Falo, chairman of the Department of Dermatology at the Pitt School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, and corresponding author for the study, said in a press release. “Sometimes the burns are so severe that patients must stop their treatment regimen.”
The therapeutic agent was developed by Dr. Joel Greenberger, professor and chair of the department of radiation oncology at the University of Pittsburgh, and Peter Wipf, PhD, distinguished university professor of chemistry at the same institution. While the two were originally exploring treatments to mitigate radiation poisoning caused by an accident at a nuclear power facility or from a so-called “dirty bomb” device, they determined that the approaches being developed and investigated might also benefit people who undergo radiation therapy to the skin for breast, head and neck, and other cancers.
Both the mouse and human skin models showed application of the topical agent reduced radiation-related clinical dermatitis, loss of barrier function, inflammation, and fibrosis. Damage mitigation was associated with reduced apoptosis, preservation of the skin’s antioxidant capacity, and reduction of irreversible DNA and protein oxidation associated with oxidative stress.
In the release, Dr. Falo said he is optimistic about the therapy’s performance in future clinical trials due to its efficacy in a model that uses human skin obtained from cosmetic procedures. “Our results show that topical treatment with this therapeutic agent prevents skin damage at the source.”
Looking beyond treating radiation therapy, Dr. Falo and his team are pursuing further studies of the molecule’s ability to reduce skin damage from sun exposure, including sunburns and the molecular changes that lead to skin cancer.
Cosmetic applications to prevent skin changes caused by oxidative stress associated with normal skin aging are also being explored.