by Sheikh Umar Ahmad 

From traditional Kashmiri Kehwa as world-famous cuisine to potential anti-ageing cream in offing, the journey of liquorice, the Shangri (Glycyrrhiza Glabra) into the world of cosmetic research

Liquorice, known as Shangri in Kashmir, holds the treatment of skin damage as Jammu and Kashmir researchers locate an anti-ageing molecule.

Treatment of acute as well as chronic photo-damage to the skin is a major clinical challenge. To address this problem, researchers at Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (CSIR IIIM) Jammu have developed a potential anti-photo-damage cream from conventional herb Glycyrrhiza Glabra used traditionally in different remedial settings in Kashmir with little scientific research being done on it. They have developed it using Glycyrrhizin, the bio-active molecule in Glycyrrhiza Glabra in the form of a topical gel, first tested in-vitro in fibroblasts as a reference model and later in animal models of acute photo-damage and has shown great success.

Skin tone is different in different individuals and some people are more predisposed at experiencing sunburns aspiring for skin tanning like in case of fair-skinned people whereas it tannes easily in people who have dark skin colour but aspire for fair skin. Though this is a blessing in disguise for dark-skinned people that they are resistant at developing skin-related disorders and this way nature maintains a fine balance that every individual coming to earth is beautiful and equally important irrespective of the skin colour.

Fair-skinned people despite seeming beautiful from outside or not so at the microscopic level as their excessive exposure to sunlight leads to chronic skin damage and if left unattended can result into serious complications like photo-carcinogenesis of skin and this way they age at a faster rate than the rest of people.

Various published reports have pointed to a high prevalence of skin diseases in India. According to a Frost and Sullivan study, 10 to 12% of the Indian population suffers from skin diseases. A report by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), University of Washington – Global Burden of Diseases corroborates this by stating that skin disease was one of the top 5 prevalent health problems in India in 2015. The report also ranked skin disease at the 7th position as a problem that causes the most disability among Indians. These statistics establish a high impact and prevalence of skin diseases in India. The statistics also mean easy access to large, heterogenic samples for research and denotes a huge potential for translational research but treating these skin complications will be a major clinical and social challenge in the times to come. Though, some anti-photo-damage creams against ultraviolet-B photo-exposure are commercially available in India or elsewhere in the world. However, they are very expensive and more so evoke some adverse reactions likely damaging the very natural fabric of skin.

To address this problem first hand and taking this as a social challenge, our group supervised by Dr Sheikh Tasduq Abdullah, Principal Scientist in the division of PK-PD and Toxicology at CSIR Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine Jammu collaborated with research laboratories from across India, brought under single banner through a CSIR networking project entitled Towards Understanding Skin Cell Homeostasis (TOUCH) which got major research funding from CSIR and subsequently received national importance.

Working initially on the mechanistic aspect of how skin maintains homeostasis upon UV-B exposure. The research group have taken the reference of some study reports published in various journals and from their own works on Glycyrrhizic acid, where it has been shown that Glycyrrhiza Glabra, (traditionally known in Kashmir as Shangri) was used in past in treating various skin related ailments in addition to other diseases by applying its ground paste on the skin.

They prepared a topical gel of it with Glycyrrhizin as bioactive material and first tested its efficacy in n-vitro settings and then replicated the wet lab results in animal models of acute photo-damage, in both the cases, it has shown exciting results. Dr Tasduq and his team used primary Human Dermal Fibroblast cells (HDFs) as a reference model to demystify the mechanistic of this potential bioactive compound against UVR and found that it modulates the autophagy machinery in Skin cells upon UV-B exposure and maintains the cellular homeostasis by protecting skin cells against oxidative DNA damage effects responsible for its photo-protective property in Skin.

The newly tested anti-photo-damage/anti-photo-ageing cream is shown to provide a suitable tissue-friendly environment for the cells and subsequently improves cellular homeostatic state upon UV-B exposure. Histopathology and immunohistochemistry analyses in mice skin showed that the treatment enhanced pro-collagen formation, deceased MMP’s secretion that is indispensable in maintaining topological and structural complexity in the skin upon external environmental insult by UV-B.

Sheikh Umar Ahmad

Overall, the research showed that Glycyrrhizic acid with its bio-active molecule Glycyrrhizin could significantly protect Human Skin from radiation-induced cellular and physiological perturbations and could suitably be taken forward for commercialization after verified in clinical settings. The group is already in process of patenting this technology and has recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Armed Forces Medical services New Delhi who have agreed to provide samples from their associated hospitals located in high land areas (High Altitude Dermatology) to replicate these results in clinical settings.

In conclusion, Glycyrrhizic acid holds great promise to be developed as a suitable anti-ageing cream and holds social and economic importance. The research team includes Dr Sheikh Tasduq Abdullah, Sheikh Umar Ahmad, Tanveer Ahmad Malik, Nazir Ahmad Lone, Divya Gupta, Shahid Hussain Naikoo, Raghu Rai Sharma and Dr Ram A Vishwakarma. The research team has published a paper of this work in a recent issue of Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry Journal published by Cell Physiol Biochem Press Dusseldorf Germany, (2018 Impact Factor 5.5)

(The author works as Senior Research Fellow (DST INSPIRE) at CSIR-Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine Jammu. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)


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