The skin is critically important to the body; it provides a protective barrier that shields us from our environment. The skin serves a variety of functions, helping us to sense the world around us as well as keeping what’s inside of us defended and stable as we experience hot and cold temperatures or come into contact with stuff like microbes. Now researchers at the University of Copenhagen have used a massive amount of data generated from studies of human skin tissue samples to create an atlas of skin. The Proteomic Skin Atlas is publicly available and is outlined in the following video.
“The purpose of the atlas is to characterize the molecular composition of healthy human skin, enabling us to compare it to diseased skin. In addition to giving us a broader understanding of the biology of the human skin, we will now be able, through skin biopsies, to determine what leads to diseases and how they develop,” explained Assistant Professor Beatrice Dyring-Andersen of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research.
The research team divided samples of discarded skin from surgical procedures into their various layers, isolated immune cells, and analyzed the protein content in the skin. The scientists used a tool called mass spectrometry to analyze the tissue samples, identifying all the proteins within. The huge amount of information that was generated was assessed with computational techniques. That led to a catalog of nearly 11,000 proteins, many of which weren’t previously identified in skin.
Skin disease is relatively common, with many people getting one of the roughly 3,000 skin disorders that exist at some point in their lifetime. It's estimated, for example, that at some time in our lives, 80 percent of us will have experienced acne. Those disorders, like eczema and psoriasis, can cause irritating or painful symptoms, negatively affect a person's appearance, and disrupt a person's quality of life.
This atlas can now help researchers learn more about skin diseases and potential treatments. “The atlas can guide us to new parts of the skin and provide insight into molecules and protein networks that we would never have identified otherwise. It is a bit like being an explorer holding a map of new treasure troves of knowledge within immunology,” said Professor Niels Ødum, Executive Director of the LEO Foundation Skin Immunology Research Center.
“The rapid technological development offers new opportunities for conducting protein analyses of tissue and blood samples. The atlas consists of large amounts of data, and we look forward to having skin researchers from all over the world explore the material and accelerate the research within an otherwise deprioritized field,” noted Professor Matthias Mann of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research at the University of Copenhagen.