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Gene2Skin - Roadmap for advanced genetic engineering-based skin therapies

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Skin disease research boosted via EU twinning

Skin substitutes made up of artificial and natural materials have evolved greatly during the last couple of years. The Gene2Skin project coordinated the meeting of minds in European universities, promising to elevate research results even further for innovative skin therapies.


Skin plays three main roles in the body – protection, temperature regulation and sensation. Its integrity is crucial to function and damaged skin can severely disrupt the body’s physiology. Chronic and incurable skin diseases such as fibrosis and ulcers, are associated with significant morbidity in the form of physical discomfort and impairment of patients' quality of life. Malignant melanoma and basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are associated with substantial mortality. The EU Twinning Initiative The Gene2Skin project established links between two of the best European institutions in skin research with complementary expertise. Professor Fiona Watt’s group, King’s College London (KCL) is an expert in fundamental skin biology and Professor Fergal O’Brien’s group at the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland (RCSI) has cutting edge knowledge on gene delivery methodologies. As Gene2Skin’s coordinator, the 3B’s ‘Biomaterials, Biodegradables and Biomimetics’ research group at the University of Minho (UMINHO) in Portugal, already has a formidable reputation for skin tissue engineering. “However, creation of more effective and native-like skin tissue replacements demands a very profound knowledge on the mechanistics of skin biology, as well as innovative ways to modulate those molecular mechanisms,” declares Prof. Rui Reis, Gene2Skin’s lead researcher. The rationale for the project was for the KCL group to contribute what they could target in molecular terms to achieve better skin tissue engineering strategies and the RCSI group would provide the tools to do so. Collaboration at the highest level The Gene2Skin team found it an honour and an enriching experience to interact with such distinguished figures such as Professors Watt and O’Brien, and respective collaborators. Prof. Reis considers that “all the activities carried out in the scope of the project such as staff exchanges, training actions, workshops, winter and summer schools, enabled the main objectives of the project to be achieved: to increase our proficiency in the areas that we were lacking.” Interestingly, Prof. Reis strongly believes that the high performing partners also gained a lot from this project from multilateral sharing of the same research issues taking different viewpoints. A perfect illustration of the ensuing cooperation is that PhD students are currently being co-supervised by the PI’s of each of the groups. This, together with the new research lines, linked to skin tissue engineering created at UMINHO, are the major outputs of the project. Lessons learned from challenges Ironically, the main difficulties encountered throughout the project were related to the lack of funding to implement the new research lines resulting from the project’s activities. Fortunately, this was overcome by money from other ongoing projects in all institutions. For the future, as research money is always very circumstantial, “we believe that in twinning actions it would be better to reduce the amount of money assigned to non-research actions and allow some funding to at least kick-start the research activities.” Summing up and looking ahead “To further explore the Gene2Skin extraordinary achievements, we are applying for new funding encompassing partners from the extended network of contacts and defined scientific strategies,” concludes Prof. Reis. He emphasises in particular the two new research lines created at the institution that aim for improved treatment of skin disorders. “These will be the pillars of our scientific strategy in the years to come.”


Gene2Skin, skin, twinning, skin biology, tissue engineering, skin disease, skin substitute, gene delivery

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