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Latest research findings expand the spectrum for microbiome-based innovations

Charlotte Ahle and Dr. Jennifer Hüpeden

The human skin is a complex ecosystem: Billions of fungi, viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms feel at home on our largest organ. What a good thing that you can’t see all these inhabitants with the naked eye.

But scientists like Dr. Jennifer Hüpeden take a very close look: “The composition and balance of all the microbes living on the skin are important for our skin health. For me it is extremely fascinating what these little things can do. I am personally driven by the need to explore this complex ecosystem in greater detail in order to derive new cosmetic approaches,” says the biologist, who heads one of two microbiome laboratories at Beiersdorf Research & Development.

Cooperation leads to new research results

Beiersdorf has been successfully exploring microbiological topics for around twenty-five years. As a main focus, the skin microbiome increasingly moved into the spotlight in 2018 – with unmistakable results in the market: the “Microbiome Balance” rating distinguishes the special product portfolio as particularly gentle on the skin. “However, we don’t have to imagine that the global research community has truly understood the skin microbiome yet,” says Dr. Jennifer Hüpeden with a twinkle in her eye. But thanks to ongoing research, light is increasingly being shed on the subject. The recent cooperation with Professors Holger Brüggemann from Aarhus University and Wolfgang Streit from the University of Hamburg is an example of this, which also stands for the promotion of young scientists.

“If it fits thematically, we are happy to open our doors to students on a regular basis,” explains Dr. Hendrik Reuter, Head of Microbiome Research at Beiersdorf. For Charlotte Ahle, a student in the biology department at the University of Hamburg, the opportunity presented itself. The doctoral student not only took a close look at the skin’s microbial zoo. In order to be able to identify the staphylococcus group of bacteria more precisely, she developed a new molecular biological method as a first step, which Beiersdorf has patented and is using successfully.

For Charlotte Ahle, the results are also personally impressive: After three years of intensive research, she is pleased to have been awarded her doctorate and at the same time can be proud of three scientific publications in prestigious journals. Dr. Hendrik Reuter comments: “For scientists, the publication of their studies is very important, because the work is judged by other researchers and accessible to the professional world. The three journals in which Charlotte’s study results have appeared, have gotten a high reputation and are a great example of successful cooperation between science and industry.”

Root Collection as the Basis for new Cosmetic Applications

For Charlotte Ahle, the insights into the business world also had a special appeal: “The combination of academic supervision and practical applications at Beiersdorf was great. I learned a lot of new things and saw how science gets into everyday life.” Thereby she chose a rather unusual path for her work and examined samples of healthy skin: “In research, pathogens, so infectious pathogens, play a far greater role,” explains Dr. Jennifer Hüpeden. But in order to compare a healthy skin microbiome with one that is out of balance, one first needs to know what the intact habitat looks like on different areas of the skin.

A root collection, for which Charlotte Ahle genomically sequenced and decoded different Staphylococcus species, now provides information about this healthy habitat and creates room for new microbiome-based innovations. “We are already using selected strains specifically for the development of new active formulas and cosmetic applications. The potential is huge,” says Dr. Jennifer Hüpeden.

Interaction of bacteria

The topic might interest especially people who suffer from acne. Charlotte Ahle has gained insights into the co-existence and interaction of the two groups of bacteria that live most frequently on the skin – staphylococci and cutibacteria. In the process, the young scientist demonstrated that staphylococci specifically fight cutibacteria, which are associated with skin disease. Using a so-called gene expression analysis, she was able to show that this activity is regulated by the bacteria and that an interaction takes place between both groups of bacteria on the skin. Thus, the skin microbiome can make a major contribution to the maintenance of healthy skin. 

Intensive research continues to be conducted in the field of the skin microbiome. Meanwhile, Charlotte Ahle is looking after her own scientific future: “I really enjoyed researching the skin microbiome with sequence data at the DNA level. In any case, I’m inspired to keep at it.” Well fueled after a short time-out, she is currently in the application process. Curiosity is high for further discoveries. And who knows, maybe her path will lead back to Beiersdorf at some point. The doors of microbiome research are open, Dr. Jennifer Hüpeden and Dr. Hendrik Reuter are in agreement.

If you got curious about the topic, take a look at our microbiome section on the Beiersdorf website:

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Kathrin Erbar

About the editor: Kathrin Erbar

Kathrin takes us on a journey to the fascinating field of research and development at Beiersdorf. Before exploring Beiersdorf’s DNA, she was doing the communication for HR related topics, such as diversity, leadership or New Work. She also used to be responsible for financial communications at Beiersdorf for several years.