The skin is the largest organ of the body and is home to a community of microbiota which generally live in harmony with our human selves. This highly specialised and diverse community that exists on all skin sites as well as in the gut, actually provides protection from infection by maintaining a friendly microbe shield against the invasion of pathogenic species into the body. Our 'skin microbiome' is therefore very important to our health and wellbeing from birth to extreme old age.
The skin changes with age and this varies according to the body site with skin thinning, dryness and changes in natural oils. Interestingly evidence shows that the microbial communities across body sites becomes altered with age as well as age-related events such as menopause that can have significant consequences for female health, such as more frequent urinary tract infections. The very elderly can suffer with chronically infected wounds which are resistant to treatment, while eczema in children is made much worse due to the altered microbiome in the lesions.
SMiHA will adopt a consumer healthcare-focused approach, including stakeholders from industry, and will bring issues of health inequalities as well as gender and racial diversity into the networks activities and we aim to establish a 'biome bank' which will serve as a future resource for researchers in this field.
In conclusion, SMiHA will develop a roadmap for research to address the challenge of healthy ageing by understanding and targeting the skin microbiome. We will map skin microbiome research in the UK and internationally and identify gaps and opportunities for improved networking. We will hold events to formulate this roadmap and to test its robustness. We will identify funding streams for researchers in this area and support new bids to expand funding in ageing research - focusing on the microbiome. Lastly, we will build an ecosystem that will be sustainable beyond the life of this grant.