By G.P. Thomas
A better understanding of how we age and new treatments for dermatitis are just two of the exciting developments that could be possible using an innovative technique for looking at human skin.
The innovative nanoneedle helps scientists to look at the internal structure of skin cells. Image credit: Univeristy Of Bath.
Internal workings of skin cells
The new technique is based on Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), a technique usually reserved
for analysing the surface of materials. Until recently, this technique had only been used to examine the surface of corneocytes (the predominant cell type in the epidermis of the skin).
However, using the innovative new ‘nanoneedle’, more research can be undertake into the internal workings of these skin cells, with the hope that this will lead to substantial medical breakthroughs.
The nanoneedle can ‘scan’ the skin cells via mechanical tomography, allowing a picture to be built up that could highlight structural or biomechanical changes which have occurred as a result of aging, skin disease or even just environmental factors.
Dr Sergey Gordeev, part of the research team, describes the process in more detail:
“AFM enables us to image samples by tapping them with a sharp probe – essentially in the same way that blind people get information about the shape of an object by touching them with their fingers. But up until now we’ve only been able to use this technique to study the surface properties of materials.
“By constructing a nanoneedle at the tip of an AFM probe we’ve extended our imaging capabilities into the third dimension. We strongly believe that this new technique will find many interesting applications in biology, nano medicine and material science.”
Incredibly important role
The new technique concentrates on the structure of the very top layer of skin, known as the stratum corneum.
Although this layer is only 0.01-0.02 mm thick (around one-tenth the thickness of a sheet of paper!), it plays an incredibly important role in the retention of water and keeping harmful microbes out of our bodies.
Scientists have long marvelled at the ability of the skin layer to do so, whilst still retaining a relatively high level of elasticity and strength.
Samples from human volunteers were tested, showing clear difference between the external
and internal structures of the cells. According to the results, the external layer of the corneocyte appears to be relatively soft compared with a more rigid, internal structure.
The work was undertaken by a research team at the University Of Bath, including recent Ph.D. graduate James Beard, Dr Sergey Gordeev and Professor Richard Guy, and the results have been published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
Prof. Guy also led the research last October that challenged the claims of cosmetic companies that nanoparticles can carry active ingredients deep into the skin.
Prof. Guy explains why this new research could be so important in understanding the secrets of skin:
“A deeper understanding of the biomechanics of skin barrier function, and the relationships between this role and the physical properties of human skin cells, may lead to the development of new therapeutic or cosmetic products to restore or reinforce the skin.
This would benefit, for example, individuals with dry or eczema-prone skin and, perhaps, the ever-increasing ageing population whose skin becomes progressively fragile over time”.
Original Source: The University Of Bath