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  The cutaneous lipidome: Does ethnicity impact skin’s lipid barrier?

   Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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  Prof A Nicolaou, Dr Abigail Langton, Prof R Watson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Historically, skin research has focused on the properties of white Northern European (or Caucasian) skin. Consequently, our knowledge of skin biology in individuals from different ethnicities is much less advanced. There is also an assumption that treatments aiming to improve skin quality in white individuals will be equally beneficial in those with darker skin. However, data suggest that skin physiology, structure and mechanical function, is altered across different ethnic populations. However, it is unkown whether ethnicity impacts the epidermal barrier and its component lipids.

The epidermal lipid barrier is vital in protecting the body from environmental factors and contributes to our immune defences. Bioactive lipids, such as ceramides, are key components of the stratum corneum (SC) and are intimately involved in the structure and function of both the permeability and immunological skin barriers. Furthermore, the lipid composition of SC is subject to seasonal changes, and can be affected by diseases such as atopic dermatitis, and the onset of ageing. Currently, our knowledge of how the epidermal lipidome influences barrier properties in ethnic skin is limited.

In this project we aim to identify differences in SC lipids in individuals across a wide-range of ethnic groups, assess whether gender and age can additionally impact epidermal lipid composition across different body sites, and explore the consequence of such alterations for the epidermal barrier’s structure and function. Our experimental approach will be based on a human volunteer study accompanied by non-invasive biomechanical measures such as cutometry, analysis of SC lipids using mass spectrometry lipidomics, genetic analyses, and assessment of biochemical properties of skin samples by immunohistochemistry, histology, and atomic force microscopy.

The study outcomes will generate new scientific insight into the biology of ethnic skin, with the long-term aims of developing intervention strategies to address unmet needs of consumers with darker skin tones.

Applicants are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class undergraduate honours degree (or equivalent) in biosciences including Biochemistry, Biology, Biomedical Sciences or related discipline. A Masters degree in a relevant subject and/or experience in cell biology, bioanalysis, dermatological sciences, lipid biology or related areas is desirable. In addition to the academic requirements for the project the following skills and behaviours would be highly advantageous: 

• A curiosity to expand your knowledge of business practices and how research insights can be translated into consumer applications 

• An appreciation of the benefits of stakeholder management 

• Strong communication skills with the ability to tailor information to the needs of different audiences

The successful candidate will receive training in lipid and skin biology, mass spectrometry lipidomics, data processing, genetic analyses, bioinformatics, and preparation of research ethics applications for clinical research. They will also benefit from a vibrant multidisciplinary research environment working at the interface of chemistry-biology-medicine, and learn how these disciplines come together to support the translation of scientific findings into consumer relevant applications.

The student will also benefit from our research collaborations with other academic, clinical and industrial groups, and have opportunities to attend national and international conferences. As part of the CTP program, the student will be expected to participate in business skills and personal development training. A placement of a minimum of 3 months will also be provided, giving the student the opportunity to choose their own technical and/or business training from across a number of business areas including claims, regulatory, packaging innovation and consumer insights.

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( 

Interested candidates must first make contact with the Primary Supervisor prior to submitting a formal application, to discuss their interest and suitability for the project. On the online application form select PhD Pharmacy Practice.

Biological Sciences (4) Chemistry (6) Mathematics (25) Medicine (26)

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from both UK and non-UK residents. However, please be aware that if you are a non-UK applicant, the BBSRC requirements cap the number of PhDs that can be filled by non-UK residents at 30% per academic year.
Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website


1. AC Kendall, SM Pilkington, SA Murphy, F Del Carratore, AL Sunarwidhi, M Kiezel-Tsugunova, P Urquhart, REB Watson, R Breitling, LE Rhodes, A Nicolaou. Dynamics of the skin mediator lipidome in response to dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation (2019) FASEB J 33:13014-13027
2. AC Kendall, MM Koszyczarek, EA Jones, PJ Hart, M Towers, CEM Griffiths, M Morris, A Nicolaou. Lipidomics for translational skin research: a primer for the uninitiated. (2018) Exp Dermatol 27:721-728
3. AC Kendall, M Kiezel-Tsugunova, LC Brownbridge, JL Harwood, A Nicolaou. Lipid functions in skin: Differential effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on cutaneous ceramides, in a human skin organ culture model (2017) Biochim Biophys Acta 1859:1679-1689
4. AK Langton, S Alessi, M Hann, A Chien, S Kang, CEM Griffiths, REB Watson. Aging in ethnic skin: Disruption to elastic fiber organization is detrimental to skin’s biomechanical function. (2019) J Invest Dermatol 139(4):779-788
5. AK Langton, HK Graham, JC McConnell, MJ Sherratt, CEM Griffiths and REB Watson. Organization of the dermal matrix impacts the biomechanical properties of skin. (2017) Br J Dermatol 177:818-827
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