Newswise — BINGHAMTON, NY – Binghamton University Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Guy German will continue his research into skin with the help of a new, five-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development (CAREER) grant.

“Skin acts as a physical, chemical and microbial barrier. It also helps regulate temperature and enables mechanoreception: the ability to sense touch,” said German, whose research focuses almost exclusively on the body’s largest organ.

German’s project – “Understanding the Multi-scale Failure Mechanics of Human Skin with Age, Ultraviolet Photodamage and Bacterial Growth” – begins in July. The fundamental research will explore how aging, ultraviolet light and bacteria weaken skin, cause wrinkles and increase the risk of skin rupture. The results will provide a better understanding of the biomechanical aging process, the onset of skin diseases that could be caused by bacteria in the skin microbiome, and new approaches in skin-based drug delivery in creams and ointments. Some of the results may also be transferable to flexible electronics and energy harvesting units.

“[There is] a diverse population of microorganisms that naturally reside on your skin,” he added. “When [skin] becomes ruptured, its barrier function is lost, leaving underlying living tissue exposed to harmful pathogens. These pathogens can cause a variety of diseases and infections.”

Much of the current work in the field focuses on macro-testing equipment and treating skin as a homogenous material, but skin is heterogeneous at many length scales, German said, so he plans to look at the tissue microscopically. Experiments will combine immunostaining, mechanical manipulation, high-speed imaging and traction force microscopy to show how skin degrades under a variety of conditions.

German’s award comes from the NSF’s CAREER Program, which is among the foundation’s most prestigious awards. CAREER grants support early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education while leading advances in their fields.