UK scientists develop new compound to protect against UVA radiation

A sunscreen compound that offers high protection against skin damage caused by UVA radiation, including photoageing, cell damage and cancer, has been discovered by researchers at the University of Bath.

The compound, dubbed the “mitoiron claw”, offers protection within cells, where the greatest damage from UVA occurs, but without interfering with the rest of the cell’s make-up.

UVA rays stimulate excess free iron present in mitochondria, which are the structures that produce energy for cells. This can act as a catalyst for production of toxic reactive oxygen species, damaging cell components such as DNA, fat and protein.

The mitoiron claw travels to the mitochondria within the cells and binds the excess free iron, shielding against ultraviolet A-induced cell damage.

“For efficient protection against UVA-induced iron damage of skin, strong chelators are needed, but until now these risked toxic effects caused by non-targeted iron starvation of cells,” said Dr Charareh Pourzand from the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at the University of Bath, whose team created the compound.

Although UVA radiation is less intense than UVB, which primarily causes sunburn, it penetrates skin more deeply, damaging collagen fibres and causing wrinkles and pigmentation. It also damages the skin’s DNA, which can potentially lead to skin cancer.

Researchers are calling for the compound to be added to sunscreen and other skincare products in the next three to four years.