We established the Norwich Skin Platform within the University of East Anglia, where we specialise in the development and use of physiologically relevant models of human skin.
These models are useful for research and development of potential dermatological and cosmetic products.
We have a number of academic collaborations and work with commercial partners through UEA Consultancy Ltd. We are scientists with decades of experience at the interface between the fundamental research and applied use of the skin models we have developed. Positioned as part of the Norwich Research Park, we harness the expertise of a wide range of scientists and have access to the technologies available across many different institutions.
We work with clients to develop skin models that meet their needs to identify new therapeutic targets to treat skin conditions or to evaluate their products for their potential benefits as well as to eliminate safety concerns.
Who we are
Based in the School of Biological Sciences the Norwich Skin Platform was established in 2015 arising from our research at the University of East Anglia.
We aim to provide the most physiologically relevant human skin models using full thickness human skin explants prepared from surgical tissue, ethically sourced through the Norwich Biorepository. Our established models replicate complex cell-cell interactions between keratinocytes, fibroblasts, and resident immune cells as well as between these cells and the skin’s extensive extracellular matrix. These interactions can be disturbed in common skin conditions including atopic dermatitis (atopic eczema) and psoriasis as well as in healthy and impaired wound healing.
We have extensive expertise in the development and use of full thickness skin models, hold established relationships with other academic centres of excellence, and offer a unique and valuable range of services from experimental design, a variety of analytical methods and advice on interpretation of results.
Meet the team
Jelena received her PhD from the Strangeways Research Laboratory, Cambridge, and subsequently gained postdoctoral experience in Paris and London. She has expertise in the role of inflammation in cell interactions with the extracellular matrix that underlie normal and pathological conditions in a variety of tissues including skin. She is currently a senior lecturer in the UEA School of Biological Sciences.
Damon received his PhD from the University of London in collaboration with the Novartis Research Institute, Vienna, on the role of cytokines in ultraviolet light-induced chronic and acute inflammation in skin. He has continually worked on the development and use of skin models to understand normal and pathological skin structure and function that have led to NSP’s creation.
Marc is a British-trained plastic surgeon specialising in all aspects of skin cancer surgery and reconstruction, He provides a specialist service for the diagnosis, removal and reconstruction of soft tissue tumours deep to the skin, both benign and malignant. Marc also has a major specialist interest in head and neck reconstruction and provides a specialist service in the surgical management of facial paralysis.
He is trained in many cosmetic procedures, both surgical and non-surgical including facelifts, eyelid surgery, cosmetic breast surgery, abdominal wall surgery, liposuction, fat grafting and botulinum toxin injections.
Ketan Dhatariya qualified from the University of London in 1991 and did his diabetes and endocrinology training in and around London. For 2 years during his training he was also a part time General Practitioner in the evenings. He took some time out of his training to spend a year doing intensive care medicine and anaesthetics. After he finished his diabetes training in 2001 he went to do research in endocrinology at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, USA. He was appointed as a consultant in diabetes, endocrinology and general medicine at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital in 2004, and Honorary Reader in Medicine at the University of East Anglia in 2017. He is a full time clinician and his predominant areas of interest are inpatient diabetes and the ‘diabetic foot’. He leads one of the largest foot clinics in the East of England.
He has several national roles in the UK. He is currently on the steering group of the Joint British Diabetes Societies Inpatient Care Group where he has led or co-authored several national guidelines on the management of various aspects of inpatient diabetes care. He is the Chair of the Examining Board for the UK Specialist Clinical Exam in Diabetes and Endocrinology, as well as Chair of the newly developed European Board Examination in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. He is the President-Elect and Honorary Secretary of the Diabetes and Endocrine section of the Royal Society of Medicine. He is an Associate Editor of Diabetic Medicine.
Dr Dhatariya has over 90 peer reviewed publications, over 100 abstracts, and has published several book chapters on inpatient diabetes, peri-operative diabetes care or on the diabetic foot. He was awarded a PhD on inpatient diabetes in 2017 by the University of East Anglia.
Jeremy is a Consultant Physician at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital specialising in diabetes and endocrinology with a strong research interest in the role of inflammatory signalling in adipose tissue in linking obesity to insulin signalling and cardiovascular disease.
He graduated from the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in 1993 and is currently the Clinical Diretor of Diabetes and Endocrinology and Clinical Director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network (Eastern). In addition to these roles he is also an honourary chair at the Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia.
Dr Jonathan Clarke
Jonathan is the Head of Business Development at the John Innes Centre on the Norwich Research Park.
Cathie is a group leader at the John Innes Centre and Professor at the University of East Anglia. Her interests span from fundamental to applied plant science. She researches into the relationship between diet and health and how crops can be fortified to improve diets and address the global challenge of escalating chronic disease. This work has involved linking leading clinical and epidemiological researchers with plant breeders and metabolic engineers to develop scientific understanding of how diet can help to maintain health, promote healthy ageing and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Cathie is also involved in genetic screens to identify crops which lack toxins that cause nutritional diseases, and has recently initiated a collaborative project with China to research on Chinese Medicinal Plants.
What we offer
We offer analysis of full thickness normal human skin explants as a highly biologically relevant model of skin morphology and response to endogenous and exogenous stimuli.
With access to ethically sourced surgical skin direct from The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital we are able to produce large numbers of skin explants (typically 100-150 explants/skin sample). These can be cultured for up to 8 days in defined medium either submerged or at the liquid-air interface to allow a range of treatment procedures mimicking topical or systemic exposure. The number of biopsies we can achieve from each individual donor allows for a truly scalable analysis of response leading to robust and reliable data.
Our ex vivo model systems has more biological relevance than other commonly used reconstituted skin or cell-based assays. This is due to the skin biopsies retaining the spatial relationships between cells and their extracellular environment that can localise responses to specific regions or cell types found in human skin. This has much greater biological relevance than other available skin testing systems, which rely on cell lines, isolated keratinocytes or mixtures of cells lacking minor subpopulations and normal structure.
We are currently offer a number of model systems that have been developed and characterised to study a range of skin responses and conditions:
Topical treatments for atopic dermatitis (AD), a chronic inflammatory skin condition affecting up to 20% of children in the UK, include creams to prevent dehydration as well as steroids, which are effective but over-use can have detrimental effects on skin integrity including thinning. People with atopic dermatitis can have reduced quality of life and may be more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. Human ex-vivo/in vitro models are important for understanding aspects of atopic dermatitis and reconstituted skin as well as in whole skin explants.
We have developed NSPinflam, a prototype inflammatory skin disease assay. We have discovered that with ex vivo exposure of human skin to a mix of inflammatory cytokines, in NSPinflam, we can overcome some of the challenges to modelling these disorders in tissue culture.
Our ability to establish up to 150 skin explant samples (healthy skin tissue, surplus to surgery), from each donor gives us scalability with room for parallel testing to achieve reliable data outputs.
NSPinflam is an excellent system for testing pharmaceuticals/nutriceuticals for anti-inflammatory effects. We assess these effects by morphometric analysis of epidermal thickening and by transcriptomics with validation by qRT-PCR.
Morphometric analysis of H&E stained NSPinflam sections reveals epidermal thickening of at least 20% (Figure 1), a feature of AD and psoriasis.
Genes whose expression is known to be dis-regulated in AD or psoriatic skin are also modulated in NSPinflam. Microarray analysis of NSPinflam shows that expression of several keratinocyte differentiation-associated genes including Filaggrins (FLG and FLG2), Involucrin, Loricin, and Cytokeratins 1 and 10 was markedly down-regulated (see Figure 2 for qRT-PCR validation for FLG2).
Skin wound healing is a complex and multicellular process essential to maintain the skins primary function of protection the body from the bacterial and environmental challenges of the extrnal environment.
A range of processes are involved in normal wound healing, including replacement and remodelling of the structural dermal extracellular matrix and re-epithelialisation of the epidermal layer to maintain an efficient and effective barrier function.
Using our experience of using human skin as a model to study normal and inflammed cutaneous skin conditions we have developed an ex vivo model system to allow analysis and testing of modulators of the re-epithelialisation process.
Using 8mm full thickness skin biopsies we can generate a 3mm "wound" by removal of the epidermal layer. These biopsies are cultured with a physiologically relevant air-liquid interface which allows the wound bed to be accessed for topical application or alternatively systemic treatments may be added to the surrounding media (see Figure 1).
Norwich Skin Platform Bacterial infection Model (NSPinfex) NEW - model in development!
However, we are happy to advise if a bespoke testing model is required.
We can provide a full service of downstream analytical methods including:
- Skin histology and morphometry,
- Immunohistochemistry and immunolocalisation,
- RNA transcript changes (RNAseq/Microarray/qRT-PCR),
- Image-assisted protein mass spectrometry (MALDI-IMS),
- Skin permeability and toxicity to provide data on regional and even cell-specific responses.