Preserving skin elasticity could unlock secrets for better body health

University of Manchester scientists have begun a study to understand the decline of ‘springiness’ in our bodies' skin and tissues as we get older.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Sherratt says the decline in elasticity is what causes wrinkly skin in older age but that it also occurs deep inside our bodies, in blood vessels and lungs, significantly reducing our health. His work is at the forefront of exciting new research that could help fight life-threatening conditions like pneumonia or aneurysm.

Dr Sherratt is a leading scientist on the understanding of ‘fibrillin’. This is the protein that allows our skin, lungs, blood vessels and many other parts to remain elastic and healthy rather than stiff and lifeless.

“Fibrillin becomes less effective as we age, increasing our likelihood of health problems as we grow older,” said Dr Sherratt, who is based in the University’s School of Medicine.

“We can’t replace it and we only have the fibrillin that was made when we were young, so taking care of it is vital. My research aims to increase our understanding of this vital protein, possibly paving the way for solutions such as new treatments or better and earlier diagnosis of problems. Alternatively it may suggest that there are lifestyle choices we can all make to help.”

Scientists already believe that raised sugar levels in diabetes are strongly related to the hardening of proteins, for example, so it is possible that more research could show a wider relationship between sugar consumption and the elasticity of our fibrillin.

Recognising the importance of his research, Help the Aged has announced major financial support for his studies in Manchester through to 2010.

Dr Lorna Layward, Senior Research Manager of the Help the Aged Biomedical Research into Ageing programme, said: “We are very pleased to be funding Dr Sherratt’s work, which could contribute to bring better health and independence to older people in future.

“We normally think about flexibility in terms of exercises like yoga, which can be great for us at all ages, but Dr Sherratt is taking the idea of flexibility at the microscopic level and finding if there are ways to improve it. His findings may literally help us put a spring back into our lungs, arteries and eyes.”


Notes for editors

Help the Aged is also calling for more donations to its biomedical Research into Ageing programme at 020 7239 1982 or ria@helptheaged.org.uk. These are urgently needed to support important science that can bring us better health and independence as far into later life as possible.

A rare condition where people have problems with the stretchiness of their fibrillin from birth is called Marfan syndrome. Its symptoms include physical deformity and further health consequences can be mild or severe, always worsening with age. The wide range of problems caused by the syndrome indicates the extensive and important role played by fibrillin in our bodies, as well as the urgent need for more research into its role in our health.

Help the Aged is the charity fighting to free disadvantaged older people in the UK and overseas from poverty, isolation and neglect. It campaigns to raise public awareness of the issues affecting older people and to bring about policy change. The Charity delivers a range of services including information and advice, home support and community living that are supported by its fundraising activities and paid-for services. Help the Aged also funds vital research into the health issues and experiences of older people to improve the quality of later life.

For further information contact:

Mike Foster

Public Relations Account Manager

Help the Aged

Tel: 020 7239 1934

Email: mike.foster@helptheaged.org.uk

Or Aeron Haworth

Media Relations Officer

Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences

The University of Manchester

Tel: 0161 275 8383

Mob: 07717 881563

Email: aeron.haworth@manchester.ac.uk