Researchers have unravelled the structure and function of the skin’s outermost layer, a watertight barrier called the stratum corneum, at a molecular level, opening the way not only for drug delivery but also for a deeper understanding of skin diseases. ”You could say that we’ve solved the puzzle of the skin barrier, something that has great potential significance for dermatology,” said principal investigator Lars Norlen, associate professor of dermatology and venereology at the Karolinska Institute.
This will hopefully enable the administration of drugs though the skin instead of via pills or injections, which brings several advantages; for example, it means that drugs can be delivered evenly over time instead of in doses, and patients bypass the first-passage metabolism, whereby the entire dose passes the liver, thus increasing the risk of adverse effects. ”We can now construct computer simulations to help us find out which substances have to be added to different drugs to open up the skin. We hope to one day be able to administer regular drugs like insulin and antibiotics this way,” Norlen was quoted as saying in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
Researchers developed an entirely new experimental approach involving rapidly freezing tiny skin samples and studying them under a low-temperature electron microscope, said a university statement. ”This has given us an unprecedented opportunity to determine the molecular structure and function of native cells and tissues in situ without having our data muddied by the addition of dyes, solvents or plastics,” added Norlen.
The majority of skin diseases manifest themselves in some kind of functional disorder of the skin’s protective barrier, and the researchers now want to use their method to determine such changes at a molecular level. ”This may be a breakthrough for dermatology. Our team has devoted the past 20 years to unlocking the mysteries of the stratum corneum,” said Norlen.