The skin is a formidable barrier and the first line of defense against the external environment. The skin is also host to myriad microbes (the "microbiome") including diverse communities of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even arthropods. Our research uses an interdisciplinary approach to understand how these microbial communities coexist and interact with the host at the skin surface, in health and disease. Generally, homeostasis is maintained at the skin surface despite colonization by microbes. However, we hypothesize that disruptions in the dynamic interplay between the skin barrier, the microbiome, and the cutaneous defense response may in part be responsible for a variety of inflammatory skin disorders.
One particular area of interest in the lab is non-healing wounds, including diabetic foot ulcers and acute traumatic wounds. In one aspect of our work, we have partnered with clinicians to undertake clinical studies to delineate microbiome dynamics during wound healing and infection. In another aspect, we are genetically dissecting the role of the microbiota and the host cutaneous immune response in mouse models of impaired wound healing.
In these and other projects in the lab we employ deep sequencing of microbe-specific marker genes (i.e. the prokaryote-specific 16S ribosomal RNA gene) and bulk sequencing of microbial DNA ("metagenomics") to examine microbial community dynamics and responses to perturbation, both from a taxonomical and a functional standpoint. These approaches circumvent traditional culture-based approaches that are biased towards those microbes that grow readily under standard laboratory culture conditions.
The long-term goal of our research is to leverage our understanding of microbiome-host interactions to diagnose and treat skin disorders. The need for novel therapeutics is increasingly evident as multi-drug resistant bacterial strains continue to evade our antibiotic resources. The skin microbiome is an information-rich, readily accessible and modifiable factor. Towards fulfilling the enormous therapeutic and diagnostic potential of the skin microbiome, we are addressing fundamental, clinically relevant questions regarding host-microbe interactions at the skin surface.