A new compound has been discovered that provides unprecedented protection against UVA radiation and its harmful effects. These side effects include cancer, cell damage and photo-aging.

Today’s sunscreens do offer good protection against UVB radiation but are limited in their application to damage caused by UVA radiation. Until now, an individual could not protect himself from the dangerous rays of UVA unless he used creams to reflect the rays.

This is a new compound that the research team has named the ‘mitoiron claw’. University of Bathresearchers worked with Kings College London colleagues to develop this compound and hope to see it added to skincare products and sunscreens within the next 3 to 4 years.

The compound provides strong protection from UVA within the cells, which is where the most damage occurs. At the same time, the remainder of the cell is not compromised. Inside the battery of the cell there is a high concentration of free iron, which performs a number of vital functions. When this free iron is exposed to UVA rays from sunlight, however, it becomes a catalyst for producing ROS (reactive oxygen species), which is known to be toxic. This damages various components of the cells such as proteins, fats and DNA and as a result the risk of cancer and cell death increases.

This new compound acts as an iron chelator and binds to an atom of iron much like a claw would. Tests have been run with fibroblast human skin cells to see what the effects would be if they were exposed to the equivalent of 140 minutes of sea level sun exposure. The study showed that the cells left untreated showed a significant amount of cell death while the ones that were treated with the new compound showed no sign of cell death at all.

According to Dr Charareh Pourzand from the University of Bath’s Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, it has been underestimated how much of a role iron-mediated damage has played when skin cells have been exposed to UVA. Strong iron chelators are necessary for efficient protection. Up until this point, however, this was not a possibility since cell iron starvation could not be targeted and toxic effects could possibly occur.

This new targeted compound offers the solution and can address the need for UVA protection in sunscreen and skincare products. The mitoiron claw provides this unprecedented protection and it will require further work to explore the full potential of the compound. For example, this discovery may lead to new therapies for mitochondrial iron overload in diseases like Friedreich’s ataxia.

The research was published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.