Stem Cells, Growth Factors and Now – Exosomes. iS Clinical’s Clinical Director Provides an Educated Update

Dr Charlene DeHaven is one of the original consults behind internationally renowned cosmeceutical brand, iS Clinical.

For two decades, Dr DeHaven’s work has been evidenced from inside lab walls at products’ conception, through to written educational resources for company members. She helps to design iS Clinical’s various clinical studies, conducted at independent labs. She interprets and summarises lab data, and replays findings to aesthetic industry peers and journalists globally. As recently as June this year, Dr DeHaven spoke to delegates at the Non-Surgical Symposium on The Gold Coast.

Dr DeHaven’s career spans work in internal medicine. She had developed a working relationship with iS Clinical co-founder Bryan Johns, with whom she operated a start-up in evidence-based medicine. “Bryan and I just had the same focus… we wanted to do evidence-based things; things that are grounded in fact, in science,” she says.

It was with this discipline in mind that the origins of iS Clinical took shape – and continue to work off today. Dr DeHaven would go on to combine her background in internal medicine with Bryan’s experience and contacts in the aesthetics space.

Dr Charlene DeHaven

Growth factors for cosmetic use

In the early 2000s, the use of growth factors for cosmetic use entered the mainstream. Plastic surgeons had been working with growth factors for some time before this, using fibroblast conditioned medium to treat burns.

On developing an anti-aging product for iS Clinical, Dr DeHaven says the goal was to build collagen and elastin in the skin. The answer came in the form of Youth Complex. “I looked at all the growth factors available – at the fibroblast conditioned medium, at the Swiss technology.” She says science had advanced so much by that time (early 2010s) that it was possible to buy a specific growth factor made by DNA recombinant technology and not human-derived growth factors.

“The reason we decided not to go with [more readily available growth factors such as EGF, CTGF, and so on] is that every one of those has some sort of cancer promoting risk associated with it,” Dr DeHaven explains. After further research, the team found what’s called a growth factor analog (a synthetic or modified in-lab natural growth factor): copper tripeptide-1 (GHK-Cu).

Copper tripeptide-1

“Copper tripeptide-1 is part of a group of molecules in the body called emergency response molecules that are used for healing. Every cell in the human body contains it; it’s a simple molecule,” Dr DeHaven says. “This makes copper tripeptide-1 nice for skincare because you can get it through the skin. It’s made up of just three amino acids plus copper, so it’s small and easy to get past the barrier. Other growth factors are huge molecules at 100+ amino acids long.”

Where other growth factors are traditionally used on burns, Dr DeHaven explains, they have no issue penetrating because the barrier has already been compromised by aggressive procedures. But for users with an intact skin, iS Clinical’s smaller alternative makes for an effective choice. In ten years, the basic formula for Youth Complex has not changed. “But one thing that we always do with all of our products is shop around for a better raw material supplier,” she adds. “We get mass spectrometry evidence to ensure what we get is what the supplier says it is.”

“With every ingredient that’s in an iS Clinical product, it’s the best quality that can be found globally; most of them are pharmaceutical grade. There are no toxins, heavy metals, pesticides or impurities in there.”

Dr Charlene DeHaven presents at NSS 2024

So, what’s the deal with exosomes?

“Exosomes are just messaging molecules in little packets that the stem cells release,” Dr DeHaven identifies. “Exosome research came from stem cell research.” Exosomes, she explains, allow for the anti-inflammatory properties of stem cells to function without a vascular supply.

“We’ve had molecules that are exosomes that are cytokines. The growth factor – copper tripeptide-1 – is also one. If you want an anti-inflammatory activity, iS Clinical’s Pro-Heal Serum Advance + is tried-and-true. It’s [backed by] studies, and contains cytokine-equivalent ingredients. These messaging molecules, like exosomes, are in our products.”

While buzz around the term is rife amongst skin professionals, Dr DeHaven sees that exosomes are nothing new. “That said, the area of exosome research in medicine is a very interesting area that’s going to get bigger. Exosomes are much easier to work with than stem cells. Why? Because they’re tiny molecules; they’re not a whole cell that you’ve got to keep alive somewhere,” Dr DeHaven puts it.

“It’s a very complex technology. In both medicine and skincare, there’s a lot more research that has to be done with exosomes. Being smaller molecules, some of them can come from plants! So it’s a very interesting field.”

“Exosomes are much easier to work with than stem cells. Why? Because they’re tiny molecules.”

Where to now?

Decades of advancements in topical formulations mean opportunities to improve the appearance of the skin remain endless. “Medicine has made so many advancements in the last decades that that’s in people’s mind, but [see it similarly] for aging and for aging skin,” Dr DeHaven adds. “If there was one mechanism that caused aging skin, we’d only need one ingredient, or one product, to make skin look younger. And it’s not possible. We’re still at the point where we’re saying skin aging is multifactorial. That’s why I say the best thing is to have devices plus topicals.”

Dr DeHaven hints at a vitamin C analog she’s particularly excited about, with signs it could lead to a huge boost in skin’s collagen production. She admits, “It’s tough for the consumer. How can they determine what products have the best ingredients?” Her advice? “Find a good skincare professional that you trust, who does that for you and whose advice you are comfortable with. That’s probably the best advice for most consumers.”

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