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Modelling the Barrier and Elastic Properties of Skin

Supervisor: Dr Rebecca Notman (Chemistry)

The top layer of skin, the stratum corneum (SC), is a complex, heterogeneous material. It is only 10-40 µm thick yet it acts as a highly impermeable barrier that protects the body from water loss, substances in the environment and infection. To maintain the integrity of the barrier, skin also needs to be flexible and elastic so that it remains intact when faced with the everyday stresses of movement and friction. Despite decades of experimental research, the SC remains poorly understood at the molecular-level. Addressing the gaps in our understanding of the molecular structure and organisation of the skin barrier is essential for a number of applications in healthcare, pharmaceutics, safety and risk assessment in the chemical industry and in the development of touch technologies.

In this project we will elucidate the molecular structure and organisation of lipid and protein components of the SC by means of molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. This will build on our recent work (e.g. Refs 1-3) and involve making connections between atomistic and coarse-grained MD simulations and macroscale models of skin permeation and of skin’s elastic response, and experimental data. We will achieve a fundamental understanding of the molecular basis for skin disease, skin transport mechanisms and the elastic properties of skin. We will also investigate the effects that other compounds have on these properties.

Notman project summary

[1] Thind et al., Chem. Commun., 2015, 51, 5406.
[2] Del Regno & Notman, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2018, 20, 2162.
[3] Bray et al., PLoS ONE, 2015, 10, e0132706.