When it comes to understanding your health, there are seemingly endless ways to size up the overall picture of your wellbeing. From fitness assessments to genetic tests, you’ve likely encountered a vast array of tools designed to help you biohack your way to better health. One well-established, thoroughly studied method gleaning insight into the state of your skin — and so much more — is the science of proteomics. But what is proteomics and how can it guide you to a tailor-made, personalized care that can help you become the best you possible?
What is proteomics?
To understand the science, let’s first break down the word: pro·te·om·ics was coined in 1996 to refer to the “PROTein complement of a genOME.” The genome is the entire set of DNA instructions found in a cell, which, in humans, is made of 23 pairs of chromosomes. Consider your genome the repository for all the information you need to develop, function, and survive. While all that information is, of course, critical, it’s not enough to tell you all the specific nuances about how and why your body does — and doesn’t do — certain things. That information is actually in the “proteome”, which is the overall protein content of a sample.
How does proteomics work?
iuno cofounder Anu Thubagere, Ph.D has a practical analogy to help us contextualize how proteomics work . “Think of your genome as a recipe book,” she says. “If you were trying to decide between two restaurants and were just given each chef’s recipe book, how would you know which was better? You couldn’t tell anything “real” about the restaurants from those books other than maybe the type of cuisine they offer — you couldn’t tell if the food was spicy or even if it tasted good. To get that information, you’d have to actually go to the restaurants and try the dishes yourself. It’s the same in the body: while genome can tell you the probability of someone having blue eyes or dark skin, it can’t tell you whether they’ll get acne or skin discoloration; those details are in the proteins.``
According to Anu, the key to unlocking all the personalized health information of an individual is actually in the details of that proverbial recipe book that represents the genome. If all the DNA in your cell can be considered the recipe book, then RNA — which informs the cells’ protein-making factories what DNA wants them to do — represents the handwritten notes you might scrawl in the margins. And the proteins themselves? Those are the actual dishes at the restaurant that give you all the information you need to assess the restaurant’s real culinary value.
“Proteins are the real workhorse of your body,” Anu says. “On the whole, we all have between 20,000 to 100,000 proteins on our bodies, and we all have about the same ones, but in different amounts.”
For example, after a workout, certain types of proteins in your body spike, and after you eat a meal, different proteins will increase. This pattern of protein fluctuations tells you a lot about your health — it offers clues and insight into everything from how you slept, what kind of foods you’re consuming, what your exercise habits look like, and more. “Literally everything about your health at that point is in the concentrations of those 20,000 to 100,000 proteins,” Anu says.
How is proteomics used?
Measuring protein quantities in the blood to learn about someone’s health is a practice that’s actually performed all the time. For example, if a person arrives in the emergency room with chest pain, the doctors will test for a concentration of a particular protein in the blood. “This particular protein is in your heart muscles and is involved in keeping your heart beating,” Anu says. “Whenever there is a tear in the heart, this protein will leak out — and if it exists in your blood, it tells you that something happened that tore your heart muscles.” That insight may help doctors quickly and efficiently diagnose a cardiac event or other condition so the patient can get the right care as soon as possible.
But proteomics isn’t just reserved for emergency situations; it’s increasingly becoming a viable, accessible tool to assess everything — including skin health. While the cost of these delicate measurements used to be prohibitively expensive, the cost of using proteomics for practical health concerns has significantly dropped, making it much more affordable, practical, and viable as a routine health measurement.
iuno is taking proteomics to a place it’s never been before: skincare. When Anu was diagnosed with leukemia, she and her husband Ashwin Gopinath Ph.D., developed a deep interest in the potential for proteomics and how it might help Anu find solutions for the damaging dermatological effects of her cancer treatments. As they continued to investigate the changes happening to her body, they discovered just how many adverse skin conditions can be traced to protein patterns produced by each individual's unique DNA.
“Skin is a window to your health,” Anu says. “Your overall health basically reflects on your skin. So if you're not eating right or you're not working out well, or you're just living in a polluted environment, it's not just your skin that's being affected — you're being affected by it internally, which reflects on your skin.”
With all that in mind, Anu and Ashwin are launching the first ever proteomics-based skincare regimen. With personalized products based on each individual’s unique proteomic profile, iuno can help guide people toward their skin goals. With regular check-ins and protein measurements, their team of experts can evolve their product and empower members to finally take control of persistent skin troubles. “We make sure that our members have all the products to be the best version of themselves,” Anu says.