Nanoneedle Technology Goes Skin Deep

Researchers in the UK are using a pioneering technique to study the properties and characteristics of our skin, in tests that could pave the way for new treatments for dermatitis and an improved understanding of the skin ageing process.


Using a tiny ‘nanoneedle’ in conjunction with atomic force microscopy (AFM), scientists are studying the structure of the stratum corneum, in the first tests of its kind. They have been looking at how this layer of the epidermis, forms the barrier that keeps water inside our bodies and microbes out, while maintaining its remarkable strength and elasticity.

In a new paper, published in the top-ranked Journal of Investigative Dermatology, recent Ph.D. graduate James Beard, Dr Sergey Gordeev and Professor Richard Guy demonstrate the nanoneedle’s ability to probe corneocytes – the predominant cell type in the epidermis of the skin. The novel nanoneedle technology enables researchers to shine a light on the cell structure deep below the surface.

By examining stratum corneum samples from human volunteers, a clear difference has been demonstrated between the softer, external layer of the corneocyte and more a rigid, internal structure. The nanoneedle enables a mechanical scan of the skin cell to be performed, offering the potential to detect structural and biomechanical changes caused, for example, by environmental factors, ageing or skin disease.

As Dr Sergey Gordeev, from the University’s Department of Physics, explains: “By constructing a nanoneedle at the tip of an AFM probe we’ve extended our imaging capabilities into the third dimension. We strongly believe this new technique will find many interesting applications in biology, nano-medicine and material science.”

Professor Richard Guy, Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology, added: “A deeper understanding of the biomechanics of skin barrier function, and the relationships between this role and the physical properties of human skin cells, may lead to the development of new therapeutic or cosmetic products to restore or reinforce the skin. This would benefit, for example, individuals with dry or eczema-prone skin and, perhaps, the ever-increasing ageing population whose skin becomes progressively fragile over time.”

For further information on the ‘Mechanical Tomography of Human Corneocytes with a Nanoneedle’ visit

Back to top