A scientific team at UBC and Providence Health Care has stumbled upon an anti-aging secret that may be a fountain of youth, after noticing some genetically engineered mice had less wrinkled skin despite repeated exposure to ultraviolet light.

Researcher David Granville said he was investigating why lack of an enzyme named Granzyme B in the mice made their blood vessels more resistant to hardening of the arteries — a major cause of heart attacks.

That's when he noticed something else going on with his mice.

David Granville: UBC finds fountain of youth.

UBC Professor David Granville said he was looking at a particular enzyme's role in hardening of the arteries and heart attacks when he accidentally discovered its relationship to aging skin. (UBC)

"You know you're looking for the blood vessels, You are focused on the blood vessel and then you have this thing in the skin, and you're just like, 'Wow.' It's completely unexpected." 

What Granville discovered was that some of the mice had more youthful-looking skin than other mice.

So his team constructed a tanning bed to simulate sun exposure on mice — a major cause of skin-aging.

"We wanted to look at this in more detail, so we generated a solar-simulated light box to expose these mice...over 20 weeks...to look at the effect of this enzyme on skin aging caused by UV light," he said.

Mice put on tanning bed

After 20 weeks of repetitive exposure, Granville said it became clear that the skin of mice lacking Granzyme B had aged much less, and their collagen was more intact, compared to the control groups.

"As we were doing these studies we observed preventing Granzyme B had a profound effect on the skin, and as we dug deeper into the skin, we found literature showing that sunlight is a major cause of aging in the skin."

"What we found when we knocked out this gene, is we could prevent a lot of the effects of skin aging including wrinkling."

"With the science underneath, we were actually able to show Granzyme B was effecting the architecture under the skin... This protein is involved in the breakdown of proteins that are important for the structure of tissues," he said.

The findings, published last week in Aging Cell, raise hope that a new drug developed by Granville could block the activity of Granzyme B in certain places, and thus prevent the aging and deterioration of tissues that depend on collagen— not just skin, but blood vessels and lung passages.

Through his company viDA Therapeutics, Granville said he plans to to test a topically applied drug within two years on people with lupus, an autoimmune disease worsened by sunlight that can lead to disfiguring facial scarring.— a condition from which the musician Seal suffers.

If the drug proves effective in preventing lupus-related skin lesions, there is potential for a cosmetic product to prevent the normal, gradual aging of the skin, which is mostly caused by sun exposure said Granville

With files from Richard Zussman