The human skin contains billions of microorganisms. The total of these bacteria and fungi on the top layer of the skin – the stratum corneum – is the skin’s microbiome. These microorganisms usually have a protective effect, but can cause negative reactions such as eczema and acne if the microbiome becomes out of balance.
Interaction of microbiome and skin
An innovation from Radboud university medical center can now help scientists better investigate the interaction between micro-organisms and the skin. This allows them to better understand and treat skin diseases. The innovation is based on years of development of artificial skin, says lead researcher Ellen van den Bogaard from the Dermatology department. Skin cells are grown into a real piece of skin with a stratum corneum. However, the skin microbiome has not been taken into account until now.
“In the past, we wanted to prevent bacteria from getting into the cultured skin,” Van den Boogaard explains. “The stratum corneum of the cultured skin is less strong at the edges of the plastic container. There the barrier is leaky, allowing bacteria and fungi to penetrate into all layers of the skin. Skin cells then die, meaning you cannot do research.”
Radboud university medical center researcher Gijs Rikken has found an apparently simple and low-tech solution to this problem. By placing a glass tube – open on both sides – in the middle of the piece of cultured skin, a kind of barrier is created. Bacteria added to the center of the culture skin can no longer reach the weaker edges of the culture skin. This prevents contamination of the deeper layers of the skin, allowing researchers to study the natural interaction between the microbiome and the skin for a longer period of time.
Simple, widely applicable
According to the researchers involved, the new method is simple and widely applicable. Consider investigating the effect of medication or cosmetics on the skin. Installing the cylinder is not exactly rocket science according to Van den Boogaard. It also does not require new, expensive equipment.
“Almost every laboratory has these cylinders. Because we approximate the actual situation more closely, this innovation also contributes to reducing the use of laboratory animals. In this way we are really taking research in this area one step further. And as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t stop there. Consider, for example, testing the effects of cosmetics on the skin. That can be so much more natural.”
This research is published in Microbiome: Novel methodologies for host-microbe interactions and microbiome-targeted therapeutics in 3D organotypic skin models. G. Rikken, LD Meesters, PAM Jansen, D. Rodijk-Olthuis, IMJJ van Vlijmen-Willems, H. Niehues, JPH Smits, P. Oláh, B. Homey, J. Schalkwijk, PLJM Zeeuwen, EH van den Bogaard. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-023-01668-x.