Algorithms of ancient beauty: AI uncovers new functions of Traditional Chinese Medicine plants for skincare
25 Jan 2023 --- Bridging more than three millennia of Eastern botanical knowledge with modern-day cosmetic science, scientists are investigating the skin health benefits of medicinal plants from the Chinese pharmacopeia using artificial intelligence (AI).
The project is based on the patent-pending algorithms of MeNow, an Israeli software company collecting data on the effects of bio-based molecules in a computational model of the skin.
The company leverages a combination of AI, deep technologies and chemo-informatics to predict the effect of GMB’s botanical cosmetic ingredients on a virtual model of the user’s skin. It can further recommend combinations of these individual herbs that may enhance the overall therapeutic potency.
The plants in the study are supplied via MeNow’s partner Green Mountain Biotech (GMB), a raw materials company also headquartered in Tel Aviv, which develops and supplies multifunctional botanical ingredients to the skincare industry.
“Our project with MeNow will help us to pin down specific phytochemicals, biological targets and possible synergies that can be realized in new botanical blends,” Dr. Yonit Bomstein, co-founder and head of R&D at GMB tells PersonalCareInsights.
Findings from the research – leveraging “millions of data points” – may additionally uncover new synergies between the targeted plant materials for treating various skin conditions.
“The results shed new light into mechanisms of action leading to the development of potent herbal treatments, offering new solutions for people suffering from life-impacting skin issues,” says Dr. Bombstein.
“New era” in the world of cosmetics
The project marks the beginning of a “new era in the world of cosmetics,” remarks Dr. Hilla Ben-Hamo, co-founder and CEO at MeNow, who works alongside her partner Dr. Coralie Ebert.
“We both come from the pharmaceutical industry and after many talks with dermatological companies and physicians, we came to a realization,” she comments.
“No one before has combined the latest innovation of deep-learning technologies with traditional medicinal plants to discover brand-new formulations, and it is thrilling to be at the forefront.”
Meanwhile, GMB has been researching, producing and marketing Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) plant extracts for many years, highlights Dr. Bomstein. “GMB collaborates constantly with academic and industrial researchers. Cooperation with MeNow is our first foray into AI.”
GMB’s founder, Roni Kramer, is an expert and practitioner in TCM, with “strong scientific and business connections” in the field, Dr. Bomstein notes. “Our R&D team is multidisciplinary addressing all aspects of medicinal plant production, extraction and applications.”
“We invested a lot of effort developing potent multifunctional extracts and blends using our proprietary process, investigating phytochemical and biological properties of the extracts for treating skin disorders.”
Data generated in this project will be used to develop and introduce new lines of “potent dermocosmetic products” to the market, she affirms.
Botanical potencies from rhubarb to angelica root
Skin and hair innovations tapping into TCM knowledge have been in the spotlight this past year, with notable examples including Symrise’s natural mushroom-based ingredient, Symhair Thermo, to protect hair from heat damage during styling. Chemicals giant BASF has also invested in the study of TCM botanicals from the Yunnan province in China for their efficacies in moisturization (Dendrobium sp. stems), anti-aging (Pyracantha sp. fruits) and sensitive skin (Gentiana sp. roots).
With the potential to broaden industry’s use of this ancient school of wisdom for contemporary applications, GMB extracts compounds from a broad variety of different plants, Dr. Bomstein highlights.
“Some of the best-known plants and their activities include rhubarb roots, known to be anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, antimicrobial, antioxidant and immune-enhancing; licorice root, which are anti-inflammatory, itch-relieving and reduces pigmentation spots; and angelica root, known to promotes women’s health and improves blood circulation in the skin.”
These listed ingredients have already been explored for their functional benefits in various combinations with GMB’s Botaniplex range – purified botanical extracts for skin conditions like acne, eczema and various viral infections.
“These synergistic combinations are filed for patent protection, with some already granted,” says Dr. Bomstein.
GMB’s botanical materials undergo rigorous testing for efficacy and safety, from field to final botanical extracts and blends, highlights the company.
Considering unique differences in skin biology
Even though skin diversity is visible, it is not taken into account enough in research, asserts Dr. Ben-Hamo.
“This diversity is not only about skin color but also about the biology of each one of us,” she points out. “There is also a huge diversity of cosmetic ingredients and plant extracts.”
“When we started developing our algorithm, we understood that there is a big challenge to overcome,” she remarks. “There are many interesting plants and molecules for which there is nearly no information available. This means that just looking at the scientific literature is not enough.”
“So we developed an algorithm that can predict the biological effects of any molecule based on its structure and chemical properties. This is a very reliable method and we achieved high accuracy. Whether or not a molecule will bind to a specific protein is determined by a key and lock system, where the shape of the two is crucial.”
Database of more than thirty thousand species
MeNow currently has more than thirty thousand plant species in its database – including rare varieties – which can produce prediction results “in one click.” “For the rest, we need to have results from mass spectrometry or other laboratory analyses in order to get useful predictions,” says Dr. Ben-Hamo.
“Our predictive capabilities are not limited to plants but can also be used for single molecules, mushrooms, algae and even snail saliva,” she highlights.
MeNow can also further refine its predictions using results from laboratory analyses, such as mass spectrometry.
“The predictions only take a few minutes to compute, but in this specific project, we also had biological experts and physician researchers validating all of the results, conducting deeper analysis and comparing them to clinical and scientific data,” details Dr. Ben-Hamo.
In the future, the company’s algorithm will be able to reach a “finer understanding” of the individual biology and the interaction with cosmetic compounds.
“We are working on integrating the skin microbiome into the picture and had some promising first results,” says Dr. Ben-Hamo. “The skin microbiome is all of the bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms that are present on the skin.”
“Even though there are 100 times more bacteria than skin cells in our skin, their interactions with cosmetic products are nearly never taken into account. We aim to be the first to do so.”
MeNow is currently being considered for two different patents. One of these involves tailoring predictions to a user’s specific skin type.
“For this, we connect the predictions to a virtual model of the skin,” elaborates Dr. Ben-Hamo. “This model is based on proteomic data and is automatically adapted to fit different user biologies.”
The other patent covers the MeNow AI platform’s process of analyzing plant extracts. “Plant extracts typically contain hundreds of molecules,” notes Dr. Ben-Hamo.
“You cannot just register the effects of [plant molecules]. It is more of a 1+1=3 problem. It is typically called the ‘entourage effect.’ And part of our IP is in being able to take into account the interactions between the molecules.”
MeNow and GMB’s latest R&D activities are the latest in a string of activities taking place in the AI revolution gaining steady traction across the beauty space. Platforms in this sphere are being developed toward peptide discovery, uncovering unique botanical fragrance compounds to boost mental performance, as well as personalized hair and skin analysis, among recent activities reported on PersonalCareInsights.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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