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Plant Stem Cells: A Cure For Aging?

by Charlotte McKiver Comments

Long gone are the days of natural aging. Men and women alike continuously search for miracle creams and surgeries to reverse wrinkles, crow’s feet and sun damage. Fortunately, with the continual advancements in skin care today, everyone has the chance to look young again.

With the influence of scientific research about the aging process, numerous “miracle” ingredients entered the cosmetics marketplace during the past few years. The emergence of antioxidants within the beauty industry meant the development of products that stopped the further destruction of skin cells by free radicals. The creation of skin care products with glycolic acid boasted consumer results of increased skin elasticity and thickness. And, with the development of products with neuropeptides, beauty companies found a means to repair damaged skin cells. Although each of these ingredients sought to reverse the signs of aging, none of these products could fully replace damaged skin cells.

Due to recent scientific advancements, however, there is a new ingredient on the market that can replace lost and damaged cells: plant stem cells. These small cells are totipotent, which means they are able to continuously regenerate new, whole plants. Plant stem cells are useful for human skin, as they are able to perform the same functions as human epidermal stem cells, except they are more adept at replenishing the skin and fighting common signs of aging, like wrinkles and crow’s feet.

Human epidermal stem cells, however, are slow to renew themselves and only last for a particular number of cell divisions. Due to the slow regeneration of epidermal stem cells, lost or dying cells outnumber their replacements over time, and the skin's health declines, causing common signs of aging like wrinkles. The totipotency of plant stem cells, however, allows one plant stem cell to divide a multitude of times, meaning plant stem cells can effectively fight the common signs of human aging.

The plant stem cells used in skin care products today come from apples. These fruits have tissue stem cells that are inordinately long-lasting for a plant species. However, the generic apples used for human consumption are grown specifically for their sweet taste and their ease for mass cultivation. Fortunately, in recent years, scientists uncovered apples from Uttwiler Spatlauber trees. These trees were initially cultivated in the 18th century and their fruits were renowned for their ability to stay fresh long after they were fully grown. Luckily, there are a few trees still remaining from the 18th century in isolated areas of Switzerland due to the plant's longevity.

In order to use the plant stem cells from the Spatlauber apples, scientists had to extract tissue from the plants in order to create cultures, called explants. The explants were then scratched in order to create miniature wounds, which stimulated the stem cells within the cultured plant tissue. This stimulation induced the formation of new stem cells on the wounded surfaces of the explant. After slow replication and division on the outside of the scratched explant surface, the new cells fashion a large accumulation of colorless cells, known as a callus. The cells that compose the callus have been divided into cells that do not have the specific features of plant cells, and thus can be used within concocted liquid cultures on human skin.

Scientists in Switzerland studied the liquid cell cultures derived from this extensive process in order to determine their effects on human skin and hair. These studies have proven stem cells extracted from the Spatlauber apple stimulate human stem cell growth; protect stem cells from death due to UV overexposure; and neutralize, often reversing, the effects of aging on the skin. After two weeks of using a product containing these extracts, consumers have seen a significant reduction in the depth of crow's feet wrinkles by 8 percent; the reduction in the depth of crow's feet after four weeks reached 15 percent.

Though the Spatlauber stem cell extract (PhytoCell Tec ™ Malus Domestica) is a revolutionary development for the beauty industry, its use within anti-aging products has some drawbacks. The relatively young age of this “miracle” ingredient means there has been little scientific research done on it, causing consumer apprehension. Also, the rarity of this ingredient means it is extremely expensive to purchase, driving up the prices of products containing the extract.

Although there are some drawbacks to using plant stem cells in skin care products, clients are happy with the results. Combining these stem cells with other anti-aging ingredients, like antioxidants, neuropeptides and glycolic acid, the beauty industry will see its first products that actually reverse the aging process.

Charlotte McKiver just graduated with a B.A. in politics from Whitman College. She is an intern at Clark’s Botanicals and currently resides in Bronxville, New York.

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