Our research 2017 Summer Studentships The role of skin structure in protecting against pressure ulcers At Imperial College London, Sergi Fayos Villalta will be doing a computational modelling project looking at the development of pressure ulcers and soft tissue damage to replace the use of mice and rats. SUPERVISOR: Dr Colin Boyle - Imperial College London STUDENT: Mr Sergi Fayos Villalta Pressure ulcers are injuries to muscle and skin caused by prolonged external pressure. They are extremely debilitating for patients, as they cause considerable pain, and require the pressure site to be unloaded for long durations. The wounds can be difficult to heal, and infection is a major risk. The treatment of pressure ulcers costs the NHS £2 billion per year. One area of the body that rarely gets pressure ulcers is the plantar skin on the sole of the foot. We are investigating the question: How is plantar skin better able to bear load than skin from other parts of the body? We postulate that this knowledge will help in the prevention of pressure ulcers on other body sites. Computational models can be used to determine the pressures within soft tissues. Our research will be the first to develop computational models that include the microstructure of skin. This will allow us to evaluate how the skin on the sole of the foot protects that region from pressure ulcers. This knowledge will further our understanding of ulcer formation in skin. Computational models that account for the structure of the skin will better predict a patient’s risk of ulcer, and enable us to suggest novel preventative therapies. Pig skin is used both in vivo and ex vivo (Yeung et al., 2016) to assess pressure ulcer development as it has similar architecture to human skin. Such animal models have long been used to quantify the mechanical loads required to induce ulcers in human skin. We believe that computational models based on human data have more predictive potential than these animal models. With the model proposed in our study, we can probe the stresses and strains within the layers of human skin accurately and locally, replacing the need to use any animals or animal derived products. Reference: Yeung et al., Wound Rep Regen. 2016; 24:1089-109.