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Skin Microbiome and Probiotics with AOBiome

Hello everyone! Today we have a Q&A session with Jasmina Aganovic, GM of Consumer Products at AOBiome, a Cambridge, MA based biotechnology company pioneering bacterial therapies for skin health (https://www.aobiome.com/). We are talking today about the skin microbiome and probiotics! 

Q: What is the skin microbiome?

Pitt iGEM: The skin microbiome refers to the collection of bacteria that reside on human skin. Human adults house about 10^12 bacteria on our skin (1), all of which are necessary and vital to skin’s healthy function. They serve as physical barrier, preventing any harmful environmental factors from penetrating the skin. They also inform the immune cells present on the skin of harmful organisms, thereby eliciting the correct immune response (2).

AOBiome: Human skin harbors a fascinating array of species of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. The specific makeup of the skin flora depends on many factors, such as whether the particular skin area is dry, moist, and sebaceous, etc. Dry forearms and hairy, moist underarms are very distinct habitats, despite their relative proximity. People living together also seem to share a larger portion of their microbiomes than those not cohabitating, and pet owners share some with their animal companions.

Q: What are skin probiotics?

Pitt iGEM: Probiotics are living bacteria that resemble the bacteria found in and around the body. Probiotics are generally thought to be beneficial to health and can be in oral or topical supplements (3). With regards to the skin, topical probiotics can restore the natural skin microbiome that is depleted with regular washing. This restoration also helps build the skin’s natural immune response to foreign invaders. Probiotics can also serve an antimicrobial role by killing unwanted bacteria.

Q: Who are the key players in skin probiotics?

AOBiome: Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria – This is a class of bacteria that is present virtually everywhere you find ammonia in nature. It is involved in the nitrogen cycle and works by consuming ammonia and producing Nitrite and Nitric Oxide (NO) as a byproduct. It’s presumed that our ancestors had this on their skin – a mutually beneficial working relationship. Ammonia Oxidizing bacteria in the natural environment helps regulate our nitrogen metabolism. Unfortunately, AOB on our bodies have been impaired by culture and other behaviors.

Q: What is the current state of the skin probiotic industry?

AOBiome: At AOBiome, we have isolated and patented a strain of Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria called Nitrosomonas D23. This particular strain maximizes ammonia utilization by producing unique enzymes on elaborately folded cell membranes, thereby increasing both their ammonia-oxidizing capacity, and their energy output. This elaborate membrane architecture also renders Nitrosomonas particularly sensitive to membrane-disrupting chemicals such as anionic surfactants found in modern soaps and detergents.

We are developing the use of Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB) as topical treatments to replenish the skin’s natural microbiome. Just as maintaining a healthy microbiome in the gut has been linked to various health benefits, we are focusing on the same applications to the largest organ in the human body – the skin. We believe restoring AOB to your skin helps it return to its natural harmony, leading to skin that looks and feels great.

Pitt iGEM: Stay tuned for a blog post debunking which products truly have probiotics and which don’t. Don’t fall for the marketing hype!

Q: What is the future of skin probiotics?

Pitt iGEM: In the US, 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria annually, resulting in 23,000 deaths (4). Antibiotics are bad for the gut microbiome, and excessive antibiotic use can also chronically impair the skin microbiome. While antibiotics mitigate symptoms of acne, extended use can compromise the healthy diversity of skin flora, leading to inflammatory conditions such as dermatitis and rosacea.

Alternative therapies for acne are necessary to sequester antibiotic resistance. Building on our research, scientists can study of the natural role of skin bacteria and ultimately develop skin probiotics that address the cause of skin disorders, rather than just treating the symptoms.

AOBiome: Healthy skin microbiomes for everyone.

Our goal as a company is to help people get a healthy skin microbiome. We view this as a 2-part process and aim to develop a product line that reflects this:

  1. “Replenishment” – This involves the replenishing of beneficial bacterial (our AOBs) to the skin on a regular basis (because they will naturally fall off from basic activities). The products in this category will contain the live bacteria. Our AO+ Mist falls in this category.
  2. “Maintenance” – Ensuring that other products your skin does come into contact with are “biome-friendly” (will not harm the beneficial bacteria). We are yet to launch products in this category, but it will be critical in shaping the full picture.

Ultimately, we hope to create more of a dialogue around the biome as a crucial piece of formulation. To date, formulators focus on effectiveness and texture, but the piece missing which has only come to light recently, is this delicate ecosystem that we cannot see. Turns out that these little things matter a whole lot more than we’d expect. 

 It’s relevant to note here that outside of the consumer business, the other half of the company is focused on therapeutics. As a whole, we’re committed to studying the potential of AOB and will be conducting numerous cosmetic and FDA regulated condition-specific clinical research studies to understand where restoring AOB have health impacts. Our goal is to identify where they make the most difference and make them broadly available in the most effective form for as many people as possible. This is why we are committed to learning the true health impact of AOB and following the scientific and regulatory process to do this right.  It will take a number of years of study looking at both topical and systemic impact of AOB to really understand where they fit in human health . Beyond each of our individual choices as a society, a lot science needs to be done by AOBiome and many more to help support with evidence this seeming obvious return to our prior environment we all need to be committed to open ended research that can teach us how to live well in the world.

Have you heard of the skin microbiome? Are you willing to use skin probiotics? Let us know in the comments!

(1) http://www.textbookofbacteriology.net/normalflora_3.html

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3535073/

(3) http://nccam.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm

(4) http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/threat-report-2013/

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