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The skin microbiome and healthy ageing - no longer just a gut feeling

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Julie Thornton

The University of Bradford will lead research into the skin microbiome and how it affects skin conditions and ageing, as part of a new UK-wide virtual institute.

The research could lead to a better understanding of conditions like eczema and acne, and scientists believe it can also shed light on the ageing process itself.

Recent studies have identified the skin microbiome to be a more accurate predictor of chronological age than the gut microbiome. Although the gut microbiome has been extensively researched, and is known to impact ageing, there is little knowledge on how changes in the skin-microbiome ecosystem impact ageing.

The new UK Ageing Network - launched today (March 7) - is funded by UK Research & Innovation, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Medical Research Council, and includes 11 networks, each focused on a different aspect of ageing. 

Professor Julie Thornton, Director of the Centre for Skin Sciences at the University of Bradford, will lead the Skin Microbiome in Healthy Ageing (SMiHA) network, a multi-disciplinary UK research community comprising universities, industry, and healthcare practitioners, whose goal is to identify how changes in the composition of the skin microbiome reflect acceleration or deceleration of the ageing process and age specific disorders.

Other founding members come from the University of Manchester, University of Liverpool, University of East Anglia and Queen Mary University of London.

Prof Thornton said: “We want to understand how changes in the skin microbiome affect skin health and identify links with ageing and its role in conditions like eczema or in wounds that won't heal. Is it something to do with an age-related microbiome? Ultimately, our aim is to understand how to reset or regulate the skin microbiome as a route for healthy ageing.

“We are bringing together specialists in microbiology, the skin and ageing. There’s a lot of interest in this field from an industry point of view, so one of our goals is to become the premier resource for scientific-based information and research into the skin microbiome.”

Skin conditions are the most frequent reason for consultation in general practice. Poor skin health and chronic skin conditions, such as infected wounds, limits independence in the elderly population and represents a high economic burden. Without good skin health, day-to-day living is compromised.

Skin disorders occur from tiny infants to the very elderly and 50% of the UK population suffer a microbiome associated skin complaint (such as infant eczema or teenage acne) each year, with management of infected wounds alone utilising 5.5% of total NHS expenditure.

The network formed under the umbrella of this project will help to drive skin microbiome research towards intervening in age-related conditions and has ambitions to expand and incorporate more members with the overall goal of understanding the ageing microbiome and in turn translate this to better outcomes and quality of life for the general population.

It is supported by a network manager Rachael Williams and in commercial aspects by Dr Gill Westgate, both from the University of Bradford.

SMiHA logo

More about the SMiHA network

The founding members of the SMiHA network are Prof Julie Thornton (Network Lead), Professor of Cutaneous Biology is Director of the Centre for Skin Sciences, University of Bradford, and Scientific Director, Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit; Dr Malcolm Horsburgh (Deputy Network Director), Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Infection, Veterinary and Ecological Sciences, University of Liverpool; Prof Andrew McBain, Professor of Microbiology, School of Health Sciences, University of Manchester; Dr Jelena Gavrilovic, Associate Professor in Cell Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia (UEA) and Dr Matthew Caley (ECR), Lecturer in Cell Biology, Queen Mary University of London.

 

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