Almost every cell in your body contains amino acids, which are then arranged to create proteins that carry out specific functions. There are more than 7,000 different types of peptides hanging out in your body right now, working hard to regulate hormones, optimize organ function and keep you looking great. Most people have heard of collagen peptides for the skin and sermorelin peptides to boost muscle mass, but these are just a few of the many types of peptides out there.
Peptides are the short chains of amino acids that act as building blocks for proteins such as collagen, elastin and keratin. These proteins are the foundation of your skin and responsible for your skin’s firmness, texture and bounce. Without these peptides, you might notice your skin looks less firm and taut or has more fine lines and wrinkles. Peptides act as little messengers, sending signals to your cells to build more collagen and elastin, keeping it plump and youthful.
There are also peptides that are designed to stimulate growth factors and other hormones, such as insulin, which helps to regulate blood glucose levels in the body. These are used to treat diseases such as diabetes, or to replace the natural hormones that have been lost due to illness.
Drug developers often start with a peptide and try to optimize its sequence, or create a synthetic peptide that can do the same job as the natural one. This process is called rational design, and can help to reduce the number of side effects associated with some drugs.
The biggest challenge is creating a stable form of the peptide. This is because it can degrade very quickly in the body, or be digested and broken down into smaller parts. This can be overcome by combining a peptide with a small molecule that has the same effect as the peptide, but is easier to store and administer. The resulting compound is called a peptidomimetic.
Antibodies are one of the best examples of peptidomimetics, and include Herceptin (trastuzumab) for breast cancer and Humira (adalimumab) for rheumatoid arthritis.
The ability to synthesize large numbers of peptides in the lab has opened up new possibilities for research and treatment. There are now peptide-based pharmaceuticals in development, including vaccines and drugs that target specific protein interactions. This is important because proteins play a key role in most of the body’s processes, so it makes sense to target them with drugs that prevent or treat disease.