Could this new compound give you a suntan—without the sun

first_img Email A new compound promises to give human skin a suntan without the sun. The compound hasn’t yet been tested in clinical trials—just in mice and on patches of human skin leftover from surgeries. But doctors are hopeful it could one day combat skin cancer by keeping people away from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.“Assuming there are no safety concerns, it is clearly a better option than UV exposure,” says Jerod Stapleton, a behavioral scientist at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick who studies indoor tanning and was not involved in the work. “We are talking about millions of young people potentially not using tanning beds each year. … It could be a game-changer for skin cancer prevention.”The advance has its origins in a strain of “redhead” mice with rust-colored fur. The rodents harbor a variant of a gene called MC1R that gives rise to red hair and fair skin in humans. A properly functioning MC1R gene encodes a receptor that sits on the surface of skin cells called melanocytes, which transmit a signal to crank out dark melanin pigments; these pigments help protect skin cells from UV radiation. The redhead version of the receptor doesn’t respond to the make-more-melanin signal, which explains why redheaded humans tend to burn, not tan. By Ryan CrossJun. 13, 2017 , 12:15 PM Could this new compound give you a suntan—without the sun? Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe David Fisher, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, reasoned that he could help people tan by finding a way to stimulate this melaninmaking pathway. He and chemist Nathanael Gray of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston targeted a protein called salt-inducible kinase (SIK), which works like a master off switch in the melanin factory. They bought a molecule known to inhibit SIK from a chemical supplier, and applied the compound as a liquid to the shaven backs of the redhead mice. After 7 days of daily treatment, the mouse skin turned “almost jet black,” Fishers says. The tan was reversible though, and the rodents’ skin tone returned mostly back to normal in about 2 weeks. Fisher notes that were no apparent safety concerns, but this would need to be tested more rigorously before human application.Next, Fisher and Gray made several new versions of the compound with different chemical modifications to help it penetrate human skin, and tested it on patches of skin discarded from surgical procedures. One of their compounds made a brown splotch, indicating that it was able to reach the melanocytes in the skin and spur melanin production, the team reports today in Cell Reports.Under the microscope, the tan produced by the compound looks just like a natural tan, Fisher says, unlike spray tans and other sunless tanning products, which rely on dyes to stain dead skin cells and provide no UV protection. Melanin is known to provide some UV protection, although the team didn’t test this on the redhead mice in this study. If the compound proves safe for human use, it would provide tanners an alternative to the illicitly used synthetic hormone called melanotan, which has been associated with skin cancer.Fisher emphasizes that the new compound would not replace sunscreen, but instead be used alongside it. Because the compound simply ramps up melanin production, it should work on all skin types, but could prove most helpful for fair-skinned people at greatest risk for developing skin cancer, he says. Fisher is now looking for collaborators to test the compound in a clinical setting.Still, even if the new compound hits store shelves, experts urge caution. “I worry these molecules could give people a false sense of security,” says Jennifer Herrmann, a dermatologic surgeon at Moy-Fincher-Chipps Facial Plastics & Dermatology in Beverly Hills, California, who has studied the use of tanning accelerator products. “If you are just slightly darker, you may not give yourself a huge amount of protection,” she says, noting that a tan provides less shielding from the sun’s UV rays than a low-SPF sunscreen.center_img Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country kaliostro/iStockphoto Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) A newly discovered compound may one day allow beachgoers to get a natural tan without exposure to ultraviolet rays.last_img read more