Bacteria on the skin: New insights on our invisible companions

April 29, 2014 by Kath Paddison

(Medical Xpress)—A University of Manchester study examines how skin-dwelling bacteria influence wound healing - findings could help address chronic wounds, a common ailment in the elderly.

We spend our lives covered head-to-toe in a thin veneer of . But despite a growing appreciation for the valuable roles our resident microbes play in the digestive tract, little is known about the bacteria that reside in and on our skin. A new study suggests the interplay between our cells and these skin-dwelling microbes could influence how wounds heal.

"This study gives us a much better understanding of the types of bacterial species that are found in skin wounds, how our cells might respond to the bacteria and how that interaction can affect healing," said Matthew Hardman, a senior research fellow at The University of Manchester Healing Foundation Centre who led the project. "It's our hope that these insights could help lead to better treatments to promote wound healing that are based on sound biology."

Chronic wounds—cuts or lesions that just never seem to heal—are a significant health problem, particularly among elderly people. An estimated 1 in 20 elderly people live with a chronic wound, which often results from diabetes, or being confined to bed or a wheelchair.

"These wounds can literally persist for years, and we simply have no good treatments to help a chronic wound heal," said Hardman, who added that doctors currently have no reliable way to tell whether a wound will heal or persist. "There's a definite need for better ways to both predict how a wound is going to heal and develop new treatments to promote healing."

The trillions of bacteria that live on and in our bodies have attracted a great deal of scientific interest in recent years. Findings from studies of microbes in the gut have made it clear that although some bacteria cause disease, many other bacteria are highly beneficial for our health.

In their recent study, Hardman and his colleagues compared the from people with chronic wounds that did or did not heal. The results showed markedly different bacterial communities, suggesting there may be a bacterial "signature" of a wound that refuses to heal.

"Our data clearly support the idea that one could swab a wound, profile the bacteria that are there and then be able to tell whether the wound is likely to heal quickly or persist, which could impact treatment decisions," said Hardman.

The team also conducted a series of studies in mice to shed light on the reasons why some wounds heal while others do not. They found that mice lacking a single gene had a different array of skin microbiota—including more —and healed much more slowly than mice with a normal copy of the gene.

The gene, which has been linked to Chrohn's disease, is known to help cells recognize and respond to bacteria. Hardman said the findings suggest that genetic factors influence the makeup of bacteria on a person's skin, which in turn influences how they heal.

"Presumably, the mice's defect in the ability to identify bacteria means that they aren't able to mount the right type of response," said Hardman. "Taken together, our studies in humans and mice offer good evidence that the skin microbiome has a direct effect on how we heal."

Much of the current research on focuses on improving antibiotic dressings to prevent infection. Hardman says further insights into the roles of skin bacteria could help inform new treatment approaches that protect against harmful bacteria without eliminating that may play a beneficial role.

Explore further: Vibration may help heal chronic wounds

Related Stories

Vibration may help heal chronic wounds

March 31, 2014
Wounds may heal more quickly if exposed to low-intensity vibration, report researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Breakthrough research discovery to help heal chronic wounds

December 14, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—The University of Queensland researchers have successfully restored wound healing in a model of diabetes paving the way for new treatments for chronic wounds.

When it's more than just a flesh wound

March 27, 2014
If you have a sore that hasn't improved in a month then chances are you are not receiving the specialised care you need.

Researchers explain why some wound infections become chronic

December 17, 2013
Chronic wounds affect an estimated 6.5 million Americans at an annual cost of about $25 billion. Further, foot blisters and other diabetic ulcers or sores account for the vast majority of foot and leg amputations in the United ...

Important wound-healing process discovered

September 26, 2013
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have discovered an important process by which special immune cells in the skin help heal wounds. They found that these skin-resident immune cells function as "first responders" ...

Why binge drinkers are slower to heal from their wounds

April 8, 2014
People who are injured while binge drinking are much slower to heal from wounds suffered in car accidents, shootings, fires, etc.

Recommended for you

New compound discovered in fight against inflammatory disease

September 22, 2017
A 10-year study by University of Manchester scientists for a new chemical compound that is able to block a key component in inflammatory illness has ended in success.

Asthma researchers test substance from coralberry leaves

September 14, 2017
The coralberry could offer new hope for asthmatics. Researchers at the University of Bonn have extracted an active pharmaceutical ingredient from its leaves to combat asthma, a widespread respiratory disease. In mice, it ...

Respiratory experts urge rethink of 'outdated' asthma categorisation

September 12, 2017
A group of respiratory medicine experts have called for an overhaul of how asthma and other airways diseases are categorised and treated.

New 'biologic' drug may help severe asthma

September 7, 2017
(HealthDay)—A "biologic" drug in development to treat severe asthma reduces the rate of serious attacks by about two-thirds compared to a placebo drug, according to preliminary research findings.

Songbird study shows how estrogen may stop infection-induced brain inflammation

August 31, 2017
The chemical best-known as a female reproductive hormone—estrogen—could help fight off neurodegenerative conditions and diseases in the future. Now, new research by American University neuroscience Professor Colin Saldanha ...

New insights into protein's role in inflammatory response

July 28, 2017
A protein called POP2 inhibits a key inflammatory pathway, calming the body's inflammatory response before it can become destructive, Northwestern Medicine scientists have demonstrated in mouse models.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.