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Fibroblast Growth Factors
Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Growth factors (GF) are small protein chains, commonly known as polypeptides that bind to cell surface receptor sites and exert actions directly on the target cells. This is generally done through cellular proliferation and or differentiation.

Some GFs exert a generalized effect, while others are cell and action specific. There are many different classes of GFs. Some common ones are: Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1) which is responsible for much of the Growth Hormone (GH) action in the body, Interleukins (IL), Fibroblast Growth Factors (FGF), Transforming Growth Factor (TGF), Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF), Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF), Transforming Growth Factors-b (TGFs-b), and erythropoietin (EPO).

GFs come from a wide variety of sources. Epithelial Growth Factors (EGF) comes from sub maxillary gland, erythropoietin comes from the kidney, and FGF comes from a wide range of cells. A unique family of growth factors that are secreted primarily by leukocytes (white blood cells) are called cytokines. When such cytokines are secreted by lymphocytes, they are called lymphokines. Many of the lymphokines are also known as interleukins (ILs). Not only are interleukins secreted by leukocytes, but they also retain the ability to affect the cellular responses of leukocytes.

What do Growth Factors Do?

Different GFs have different jobs to do. Generally, all of them work at the cellular level to:

  Repair damaged cells
  Enhance cellular proliferation
  Maintain optimum function of the target organ
  Rejuvenate aging tissues

While hormones are generally more specific and sometimes work through other mediations elicited from their simulation of intermediate organs, GFs often act directly on the target tissue and have a wide range of effects.  Its action is mostly stimulatory.  It can also work synergistically with other GFs or hormones to elicit a biological effect. Growth hormones, for example, exert their effects in the body via Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1). In other words, it is the IGF-1 that actually carries out the function of the growth hormone and not growth hormone itself.

What is Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF)?

FGF is a group of GFs that act on the fibroblast within the body. Fibroblast are basic building blocks of fibrous tissue, including the brain, nervous system, eye, blood vessels, heart, stomach, skin, liver, kidney, muscle and bone. In fact, most cells within these organs possess receptors for FGF and therefore are susceptible to its biological effect.

There are at least 19 distinct members of the FGF family, which interact with at least 4 distinct types of cell-surface receptors. It is evident that the amount of FGF is essential for optimum body function, and disruption of FGF can lead to disease states, including achondroplasia and craniosynotosis syndromes.

Conjugated FGF

FGF can be bound to inert, non-toxic polymers to form a conjugated molecule. This is usually done through a series of chemical reactions. Substances commonly used as polymers include polysaccharides or muco-adhesives.

FGF is a small protein that can be easily denatured when exposed to heat or acid. Ingesting FGF, for example, will expose FGF to gastric acid, which will quickly denature it.
When the FGF is conjugated, the protein is more stable and protected from the digestive enzymes, for example. Conjugation can further program the FGF's release from its carrier in order to ensure that the desired action of the GF, on a specific site, is maintained.

What is the anti-aging effect of FGF?

The natural progression of the aging process is due to cellular degeneration. Oxidative stress and free radical pathology has been well studied, in this respect, as a causative factor. FGF helps maintain the target organs that contain fibrous tissue; including the eyes, heart, brain, skin, and the musculoskeletal system.  It helps repair damaged tissue.   For example, FGF can help restore normalcy in injured nerve tissue or damaged blood vessels in order to prevent further clotting or stokes. In the case of a duodenal ulcer, it can reduce healing time. The fortification and re-growth of the epidermis and its underlying circulation will lead to healthier skin and fewer wrinkles.

Non-damaged aging cells can also benefit from FGFs. Laboratory studies, for example, have shown that cells that are unable to replace themselves (such as eye tissue), can be stimulated to renew cell layers.  An example of this is the pigmented layer in the eye.

Body parts that respond to biological stimulation of FGF include:

Nervous system (brain, central nervous system)

Cardiovascular system (heart, circulatory system)

Skin (dermis, epidermis, and underlying circulatory system)

Eye (cornea and retina)

Gastro-intestinal system (stomach and intestine)

Hair (hair follicle and the sub-scalp circulatory system)

Musculo-skeletal system (muscle, bone, cartilage)

Liver and Kidney (target organ cells)

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