Scientists at Northwestern University, located in Evanston, Illinois (United States), claim to have developed a synthetic version of melanin that could have various uses.
In new research, they show that their melanin could prevent the formation of blisters and accelerate the healing process in tissue samples from recently injured human skin.
But that is not all. Following these findings, the team now plans to further develop their “super melanin”, both as a medical treatment for certain skin lesions or a potential sunscreen, as well as for skin care and an anti-aging product.
Biomedical engineer Nathan Gianneschi and his colleagues at Northwestern University have long been fascinated by the versatility of melanin. And most people could recognize it as the main driver of our skin color, but the truth is that it is a substance with many different functions throughout the animal kingdom.
So after a decade of work, researchers learned how to reliably mimic and create their own version of melanin. In 2020, right around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gianneschi met fellow researcher and Northwestern dermatologist Kurt Lu, and their respective teams began collaborating and studying whether it could be used to keep our skin safe.
What the creators say
“Nathan and his group have been doing this for quite some time and brilliantly figured out how to synthesize it,” Lu told Gizmodo. “But now we’re starting to explore whether we can formulate it and then put it in a cream, gel, or any number of different vehicles and see if it protects the skin,” he added.
His latest work was published in Nature Journal NPJ Regenerative Medicine, a study in which they tested melanin in mice and in human skin tissue samples that had been exposed to potentially harmful things. In both scenarios, melanin reduced or even completely prevented damage to the top and underlying layers of skin.
Very similar to natural melanin
The scientists’ creation is very similar to natural melanin, in the sense that it appears to be as biodegradable and non-toxic to the skin as the latter. In fact, in experiments so far it does not appear to be absorbed into the body when applied topically, further reducing any potential health risks. But the ability to apply as much melanin as needed means it could help repair skin damage.