A breakthrough in the study of human skin cells could pave the way for powerful anti-ageing cosmetics and cancer fighting drugs, according to scientists behind the research.
The team from Newcastle University said for the first time they had identified that the activity of a key enzyme in human skin declines with age.
This means, according to the study, that there is now a specific target for developing tailored anti-ageing treatments that "may counter this decline in bio-energy".
Mark Birch-Machin, leader of the study and Professor of Molecular Dermatology at Newcastle University, said the findings could also eventually be applied to other parts of the body.
"As our bodies age we see that the batteries in our cells run down, known as decreased bio-energy, and harmful free radicals increase," he said.
"This process is easily seen in our skin as increased fine lines, wrinkles and sagging appears. You know the story, or at least your mirror does first thing in the morning.
"Our study shows, for the first time, in human skin that with increasing age there is a specific decrease in the activity of a key metabolic enzyme found in the batteries of the skin cells.
"This enzyme is the hinge between the two important ways of making energy in our cells and a decrease in its activity contributes to decreased bio-energy in ageing skin.
"Our research means that we now have a specific biomarker, or a target, for developing and screening anti-ageing treatments and cosmetic creams that may counter this decline in bio-energy.
"There is now a possibility of finding anti-ageing treatments which can be tailored to differently aged and differently pigmented skin, and with the additional possibility to address the ageing process elsewhere in our bodies."
The study, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, looked at enzyme mitochondrial complex II in 27 donors, from age six to 72 years.
Samples were taken from a sun-protected area of skin to determine if there was a difference in activity with increasing age.
It was found that complex II activity significantly declined with age in the cells derived from the lower rather than the upper levels, an observation not previously reported for human skin.
Co-leader and research associate Dr Amy Bowman said: "Our work brings us one step closer to understanding how these vital cell structures may be contributing to human ageing, with the hope of eventually specifically targeting areas of the mitochondria in an attempt to counteract the signs of ageing."
The study was funded by the North Eastern Skin Research Fund, the Faculty of Medical Sciences and NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Newcastle University and Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.