The skin microbiome and it's impact on disease

Lawrence Tynes, former kicker for the New York Giants (@AmandaTynes9)

Lawrence Tynes, former kicker for the New York Giants (@AmandaTynes9)

Today’s post is going to discuss the microbiome of the largest organ in the human body, the microbiome of our skin. We talk a lot about the gut microbiome and the bacteria that are in our body, but we don’t talk nearly as much about the bacteria on our skin. Every square centimeter of our skin is home to approximately 1 million bacteria with various parts of the skin hosting different kinds of bacteria depending on how hospitable it is for specific microbes (dry or moist sites on the body).

Two scientists from the NIH published a review article last week in Science that discussed the skin microbiome and its relationship with the body’s immune system. We know that the skin microbiome and the immune system have a strong relationship in which bacteria often tells the body to undergo an immune response.  An example of this is in tissue repair. When our skin is damaged, a specific bacteria S. epidermidis results in the production of an acid that promotes wound healing.

Common skin diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, and acne are all conditions that have been linked to imbalances in our skin microbial communities. While it is not clear what initiates these conditions, better understanding the communication between the skin bacteria and our immune system will allow us to better provide a clinical benefit. In eczema patients, studies have shown that specific bacteria are more prevalent during disease flares and patients using no treatment had significantly reduced bacterial diversity at the affected site.  This tells us that it is the recalibration of the skin microbiome and not the elimination of specific bacteria that is necessary for effective treatment by reducing the inflammatory response by the immune system. 

But at this point, you’re probably wondering why Lawrence Tynes, a two-time Super Bowl champion kicker, with an IV in his arm was used as today’s image. When Larry left the Giants in 2013 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he contracted something called methicillin-resistant Staphylolococcus aureus, what is commonly known as MRSA. MRSA is a specific bacterium that is resistant to several antibiotics and is therefore often very difficult to treat in patients and can lead to death. Antibiotic-resistance is a major and growing concern in today’s society that is often linked to the overuse of antibiotics. S. aureus is a bacteria that is common in our skin microbiome and is generally harmless until it becomes resistant to antibiotics.

Our skin microbiome provides an opportunity for the development of new therapies and treatments for various conditions. Because nutrients on our skin are scarce, small changes in specific nutrients can result on the composition of the skin microbiome.  Specifically, the development of creams, other topical products, as well as prebiotic and probiotic therapies could result in shifts in our skin microbiome to help combat disease. Lastly, as drug resistant bacteria continue to be a problem, it may be possible to develop therapeutics based on other microorganisms that can combat these bacteria. 

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The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.