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Research themes

As a leading centre of excellence in skin sciences, we are delighted to be able to provide internationally recognised expertise and facilities across the many research themes, together with a world-class postgraduate learning environment for Masters and Doctoral students. Professor Julie Thornton, Director

Hair Biology

We have a strong science base in hair biology and our researchers have specialist experience developing links between the immune system, hormones, genetics and hair growth and its associated disorders. In the hair regeneration field we understand the role of the dermal component of the follicle as having regenerative properties and we are investigating the molecular factors that are key mediators for this phenomenon. We use in vitro and ex vivo models to study hair biology, such as hair follicle cells, 3D reconstructed follicle fibrobalst papillae and intact whole hair follicles. Our projects include investigating the mode of action of hair growth technolgy; understanding the ageing environment of the follicle; aspects of hair pigmentation and greying and the immunobiology of alopecia areata. Our research features strongly in our Masters in Skin Sciences and Regenerative Medicine

Hair follicle showing extracellular matrix markers

Skin ageing and wound healing

The skin and hair follicle are ideal model systems for studying epithelial-mesenchyme interactions that underpin hair and skin regeneration and wound healing. We are able to obtain primary epidermal and dermal cells as well as whole human skin for explant and ex vivo tissue - organ culture. Such systems have been used to investigate the role of mediators of oxidative stress in skin and hair physiology, the inflammatory mediators in alopecia, the impact of visible light on wound closure, the influence of adipocytes on radiotherapy tissue and its implications on wound healing and scar tissue formation/maturation and the effects of vitamin D on wound healing. We use a mixture of cell culture, molecular, immuno-, and protein biochemistry methods to study these subjects. Our research has a strong impact through the work of our plastic surgeon fellows in the Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit

Wound repair model in human skin

Skin Immunology and Inflammation

A key research objective is to unlock the links between the immune system and hair growth diseases and disorders. Skin immunology and inflammation crosses between skin and hair biology. In the case of alopecia areata, an autoimmune hair loss condition, we are studying the immune cells in the follicle environment and in the blood stream as biomarkers of disease activity. We have also identified some of the epigentic controlling factors that are implicated in the disease, with focus on microRNAs.

We have received charity funding from Alopecia UK and NAAF and are part of a new bid to Versus Arthritis. We have opportunities for self funded PhDs in this area. 




Hair follicle destruction in alopecia areata

Skin Epigenetics

We are exploring epigenetic mechanisms of gene regulation with projects focused on the role of covalent DNA/histone modifications and regulation of gene expression by epigenetic machinery including the polycomb complexes. These studies are being applied in projects related to hair growth and wound healing, where the regulation of cell signalling influences cell-fate decisions under different stimuli. Furthermore, we also investigate the role of epigenetic factors in development of inflammatory skin gene diseases. Our research in epigentics has been highlighted in a new book 

Epigenetic Regulation of Skin Development and Regeneration - Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine
1st Edition 2018. Vladimir A. Botchkarev (editor), Sarah E. Millar (editor). ISBN-13: 978-3319167688
ISBN-10: 3319167685.


Skin Epigenetics is a strong areas of research focus within CSS


The ability to analyse large 'omics datasets is now a key tool in the biologists toolkit. In the CSS we have a large collection of skin and hair phenotype-linked data derived from high-throughput screening such as RNA-Seq, CHIP-SEQ, DNA-SEQ and we have considerable expertise in interrogating these data to answer research-specific questions. We determine ‘omics’ landscape of skin and hair loci in response to ageing, environmental insults and disorders including gene expression and epigenetic regulation. We are closely involved with Elixir - a platform that unites Europe’s leading life science organisations in managing and safeguarding the increasing volume of data being generated by publicly funded research and is the major body indicated in the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) infrastructure roadmap.

Dr Krzysztof Poterlowicz’s lab has been involved in a range of Elixir activities i.e Galaxy data platform, Copy Number Variation community, and research training and he leads a new masters Module in Bioinformatics and Computational Biosciences 

Bioinformatics is a key element of CSS skin and hair science expertise

Research themes and capabilities

Applied research

  • Skin and hair development and regeneration - role of transcription factors and epigenetic regulators
  • Wound healing and wound care - links to diabetes; role of EMT in wound healing
  • Skin and hair follicle ageing - the aging dermal environment 
  • Skin and hair pigmentation - role of ATM in melanocytes; melanosome transfer and novel pigmentation technology
  • Skin immunology and skin disease - alopecia areata, psoriasis

Basic research

  • Chromatin dynamics and epigenetic regulation of gene expression
  • Stem cell biology - the hair follicle stem cell niche
  • Non-coding RNA functions - microRNA in control of the hair cycle and in ageing
  • Cell signalling in development and disease
  • Stress cell biology - differential responses of skin cells to oxidative stress
  • Big data analysis and modelling in biological systems - Galaxy software secialists and recognised UK training provider

Capabilities and Models

Human skin models 

  • Primary cells, co-cultures and engineered skin equivalents are used for materials testing in mode of action and efficacy experimental designs as well as for investigating basic skin biology

Human Hair models

  • Ex vivo human hair follicles model and follicle derived cells are used for investigating the biology of hair growth and effects of novel materials, growth factors, chemokines and cytokines on cell/hair behaviour

Transcriptomics and epigenomic analysis in different populations of skin cells

  • FACS purification of different cell populations; laser capture microdissection; RNA-seq, DIP-seq and ChiP-seq analysis; microarray transcriptome profiling

Big data analysis, bioinformatics and modeling in skin health and disease

  • We use Galaxy software to design workflows for big data analysis
  • We have a large collection of skin and hair phenotype-linked data derived from high-throughput screening such as RNA-Seq, CHIP-SEQ, DNA-SEQ and we have considerable expertise in interrogating these data to answer research-specific questions