New study of how aging is influenced by skin bacteria launches

More than skin deep – how understanding the skin microbiome could predict aging and teach us how to delay it.

Last week we covered the news that researchers at 28 UK universities have teamed up to tackle healthy aging, creating 11 new networks. Jointly funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Medical Research Council, one of these is set to study how aging is influenced by skin bacteria.

Longevity.Technology: Interest in microbiomes are increasing; everyone has a unique network of microbiota – a vast array of various types of bacteria, protozoa, archaea, viruses and fungi. While the existence of the gut microbiome is fairly well known, with people taking prebiotic yoghurt drinks to maintain the healthy bacteria in their gut, the skin – the largest organ in the body –  is also a microbiome. Recent studies have shown that these communities of bacteria that live in the skin are a more accurate predictor of age than the gut microbiome , but there is little knowledge on the processes involved in which the skin microbiome affects aging. This could all be about to change.

Called Skin Microbiome in Healthy Ageing (SMiHA), the new network is a multi-disciplinary UK research community comprising universities, industry and healthcare practitioners. It will study how changes in the composition of the skin microbiome reflect acceleration or deceleration of the ageing process and age specific disorders and map skin microbiome research in the UK.

The network is led by Julie Thornton Professor of Cutaneous Biology and Director of the Centre for Skin Sciences, University of Bradford, and Scientific Director, Plastic Surgery and Burns Unit. Other members of the network are from the University of Liverpool, Queen Mary University London and the University of East Anglia.

Around 50% of the UK population have a microbiome associated skin complaint, such as infant eczema or teenage acne each year. Management of infected wounds alone utilise 5.5% of total NHS expenditure.

Skin complaints are the most frequent problems seen by GPs, and poor skin health and chronic skin conditions, such as infected wounds, often impacts on the elderly.
Microbial communities across body sites become altered with age as well as age-related events; the menopause, for example, can have significant consequences for female health, such as more frequent urinary tract infections.

Professor Andrew McBain a microbiologist from The University of Manchester said: “We formed this network to help skin microbiome research come up with solutions to age-related conditions.

“We hope to achieve that through creating more knowledge about the aging skin microbiome. We believe that this will create better outcomes and quality of life for many people.”

SMiHA will adopt a consumer healthcare-focused approach, including stakeholders from industry; it plans to bring issues of health inequalities as well as gender and racial diversity into the network’s activities, aiming to establish a ‘biome bank’ that will serve as a future resource for researchers in this field.

Photograph: Sharon Mccutcheon/Unsplash