Cell binding discovery brings hope to those with skin and heart problems

A University of Manchester scientist has revealed the mechanism that binds skin cells tightly together, which he believes will lead to new treatments for painful and debilitating skin diseases and also lethal heart defects.

Professor David Garrod, in the Faculty of Life Sciences, has found that the glue molecules bind only to similar glue molecules on other cells, making a very tough, resilient structure. Further investigation on why the molecules bind so specifically could lead to the development of clinical applications.

Professor Garrod, whose Medical Research Council-funded work is paper of the week in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) tomorrow (Friday), said, ''Our skin is made up of three different layers, the outermost of which is the epidermis.

This layer is only about 1/10th of a millimetre thick yet it is tough enough to protect us from the outside environment and withstand the wear and tear of everyday life.

''One reason our epidermis can do this is because its cells are very strongly bound together by tiny structures called desmosomes, sometimes likened to rivets. We know that people who have defects in their desmosomes have problems with their epidermis and get extremely unpleasant skin diseases.

Understanding how desmosomes function is essential for developing better treatments for these and other types of skin disease and for non-healing wounds.