Research Fellows Directory
Dr Rebecca Notman
University of Warwick
The stratum corneum (SC) is the topmost layer of skin. This very thin layer is an amazing biological barrier, which prevents substances in the environment from getting inside the body and stops water from escaping. A thorough understanding of the SC is important for numerous applications including new treatments for skin diseases, transdermal drug delivery (the delivery of drugs across skin e.g. using patches), innovative touch technologies and the development of personal care products to protect and maintain healthy skin.
The problem is that our understanding of the skin barrier is actually very limited. We know that the SC looks a bit like a brick wall: the “bricks” are flattened protein-filled dead cells called corneocytes and the “mortar”, which fills the gaps, is made up of stacks of lipid molecules. It is these lipid layers that are essentially impermeable to solutes and thus form the skin barrier. Despite years of experimental research, the molecular structure and organisation of the lipid layers remains poorly understood. This is due to the extremely complex composition (ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids) and the challenges associated with high-resolution imaging of lipid phases and packing.
An alternative and highly advantageous tool to help us understand the SC is molecular dynamics computer simulation. We are using molecular simulations to “zoom-in” to the molecular-level, to understand how the skin lipids assemble into these highly impermeable layers. These simulations are generating new, realistic models of the SC lipid layers that are being applied to solve current challenges in skin research, which will have real impact on society. The research is important as it will help to address human health issues on a global scale, from skin barrier impairment (a major problem in developing countries) to sophisticated transdermal delivery systems for novel therapeutics and exciting touch technologies that could revolutionise medical training.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)