Addressing attendees at last month’s IFSCC Congress 2022 in London, UK, Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, founder and CEO of Neuro-Bio, a privately-owned biotech startup out of Oxford University, said work had been ongoing with Unilever for some time and was just underway with Beiersdorf.
‘We’ve all known anecdotally that the skin and brain are connected’
Greenfield said this avenue of research had been taken because of the knowledge that the skin and brain were “indeed in a constant two-way conversation”.
“We all know how powerful it is to hug someone and the impact that has on how it makes you feel; the wellbeing that only touch can deliver. Similarly, we know if you’re stressed or worried, it manifests in the skin with breakouts. We’ve all known anecdotally that the skin and brain are connected, the question is: how?” Greenfield said in a keynote presentation.
What was interesting in humans, she said, was how touch could be divided into two response components: the emotional, which was about sensation and raw emotion, and the cognitive, which was about how it was registered and perceived by the brain. And out of the five senses, she said it was touch that seemed to have a “careful balance equally between sensory and cognitive”.
But beyond understanding how the brain participated in the sensation and perception of touch, Greenfield said scientific research on skin cells and brain cells showed how much these two organs had in common and how much they interacted.
“We have a two-way street between the brain and the skin, it’s increasingly obvious. Not only does this exist, this interaction, but indeed its in heavy use,” she said.
Can skin reflect brain degeneration?
At Neuro-Bio, where research was focused on neurogenerative diseases, and in particular Alzheimer’s, Greenfield said the team was working to try and identify a biomarker for the disease. And, so far, the peptide T14 had been identified as a neurotoxic in the adult brain and a potential key driver of neurodegeneration.
Whilst Neuro-Bio had devised a possible blood test to identify T14 as a biomarker, she said the company was also working with personal care majors Unilever and Beiersdorf to see if there was an epidermal link to neurodegeneration triggered by T14.
Work with Unilever, for example, had showed T14 in skin reflected age and ageing, opening potential opportunities, she said, for early T14 detection in the 20-year pre-symptomatic window of Alzheimer’s, ultimately enabling earlier intervention and even permanent prevention in the future. A skin biopsy, therefore, “could be beneficial” in the search for a biomarker, she said.
“…Our rationale is that if neurodegeneration is triggered by T14 and if epidermal keratinocytes are in a state of constant renewal, then could this process therefore be linked with Alzheimer’s pathology and the epidermal profile?”