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Conference Report: Innovations in Dermatological Sciences

The 6th Annual Conference on Innovations in Dermatological Sciences was held on October 2-3 at the Renaissance Hotel in Iselin, NJ. Organized by the Rutgers University Center for Dermal Research in partnership with the Society for Investigative Dermatology, the theme for this year’s conference was “Harnessing the Skin Microbiome” and featured a diverse panel of speakers ranging from academia to industry, including startups. Here we present some brief highlights: Plenary speakers Heidi Kong and Elizabeth Grice started off each day’s session with an excellent overview of the current challenges in characterizing the human skin microbiome, sharing their respective findings in better understanding host-microorganism interactions. While they showed data linking disruption in the microbiome composition to diseased states, they also emphasized the importance of separating association from direct causation. It is easy to get excited over the vast potential of microbiome research, but we should keep in mind that it is still an emerging field and more epidemiological and validation studies are needed. Julia Cope from Diversigen, Inc. outlined the importance and need for stringent quality control in microbiome research methodology, presenting differences in quality of data collected from different sampling and sequencing methods. Currently, microbiome research is driven primarily by genomic technology, which requires rigorous analysis and thus, a standardized process would help ensure consistency. Philip Ludwig of BASF spoke about using 2D and 3D skin models involving co-culturing skin cells and bacterial species together as a tool to evaluate the effect of active ingredients on the skin microflora. Pascal Descargues from Genoskin presented his company’s work on ready-to-use human skin model that can be used to measure the biological responses of the skin to any applied product, which may include microbiome-based formulations. This would be a suitable alternative to study skin-microbe interactions without getting into in vivo clinical studies. Vijendra Nalamothu and Jason Carbol both discussed difficulties developing cosmetic ready-to-use formulations containing living microorganisms. The main struggle for cosmetic manufacturers seems to be finding the appropriate ratio of shelf-life versus profit. Startups appear to be taking a lead in using the skin microbiome as a vehicle to delivery compounds directly to the skin. Noga Qvit-Raz, founder of TopgeniX, introduced their new approach to UV protection by using natural, photostable UV protective compounds and delivering it to the skin using the skin bacteria. Similarly, Travis Whitfill from Azitra, Inc. presented the novel strategy his company is taking by modifying common, safe strains of the skin microbiome, S. epidermidis, to produce and deliver therapeutic proteins necessary for the treatment of multiple skin diseases directly inside the targeted skin compartment. In her talk titled “Computational skin appearance and skin microbiome”, Kristin Dana introduced an interesting idea to develop computational skin texture models which would be linked to the underlying microbiome clusters and predict the changes in skin surface properties and skin diseases based on these correlations. This would be a powerful and relatively cheap tool for dermatologists and the personalized cosmetic industry. While it was acknowledged skin microbiome research is at its early stages, everyone was hopeful and excited by the tremendous pressure it holds. New breakthroughs and technologies in the field could mean a paradigm shift in our current understanding of the skin and shape future innovations in both skin cosmetics and therapeutics.

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