TORONTO (TIP): A researcher in Canada has developed a skin cream that allows people to painlessly get rid of tattoos.

Alec Falkenham, a PhD student in Dalhousie University’s pathology department, has come up with an approach that makes use of the natural healing process our skin activates after it is tattooed.

When we get a tattoo, the pigment from the ink deposits into the skin where it is then consumed by white blood cells named “macrophages”.

“Macrophages are known as the big eaters of the immune system. They eat foreign material, like tattoo pigment, to protect surrounding tissue,” said Falkenham. In the case of tattoos, two populations of macrophages react to the ink in different ways. One set of macrophages transports some of the pigment to the draining lymph nodes, removing it from the area.

The other population that has “eaten” the pigment goes deeper into the skin, becomes inactive and forms the visible tattoo.Over time, the macrophages that formed the tattoo are replaced by new macrophages which causes the tattoo to blur and fade. Falkenham’s technology, Bisphosphonate Liposomal Tattoo Removal (BLTR), targets the macrophages that contain the pigment for removal.

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“BLTR is a cream that you put on your skin,” he said, adding that describing how BLTR it makes uses a lipid-vesicle, or liposome, that his team created.”When new macrophages come to remove the liposome from cells that once contained pigment, they also take the pigment with them to the lymph nodes, resulting in a fading tattoo,” said Falkenham. The technology is a safer alternative to current tattoo removal lasers. By acting as a “Trojan horse” in their drug delivery, liposomes target cells that can consume them, specifically those that contain pigment. This limits potential side effects to the small number of surrounding cells too that do not contain pigment.

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