Business engagement with the research base – collaboration in action

Business engagement with the research base – collaboration in action


The Franz Diffuser Cell

"The collaborative study produced important findings, which could have a significant impact on preventing hospital-acquired infection." 

Dermal Technology Laboratory Ltd was founded at Keele in 2007, establishing itself as an expert in the med-tech industry by specialising in the area of in vitro dermal absorption – lab experiments on how much of a substance is absorbed by the skin. These studies are needed by government regulatory authorities as part of the safety testing of new and existing chemicals, agrochemicals, personal care, and pharmaceutical products.

We are now a lead supplier of dermal absorption studies for major FTSE 100 chemical companies and corporations around the globe, with more than 75 per cent of our business coming from overseas.

As with any laboratory-based company, the technology available and the operation of the lab facilities are only as good as the people who are part of them. In that respect, it helps that DTL has an experienced team of scientists with a high level of expertise as well as good contacts with the Faculty of Health at Keele University.

In my own position as a founding Director and Chairman, I am also involved with the School of Pharmacy at Keele University as Honorary Professor of Toxicology ,and currently sit on the Enterprise Board at the School, helping to grow the University’s external links with organisations at a national and international level. The Dean of the Faculty of Health at Keele, Professor Andy Garner, has also chaired DTL’s Advisory Board for a number of years and helped to establish DTL at Keele.

The scientists at DTL were instrumental in the development of an alternative non-animal test for evaluating the absorption of  chemicals through the skin using their in vitro glass diffusion cell device. The diffusion cells incorporate a small disc of donated human skin and can be adapted to test a wide range of materials that come into contact with the skin.

For example, the method is used to test dermatological creams and cosmetic products. The non-animal technique is also used by DTL to test potentially harmful chemicals such as pesticides, biocides and other industrial chemicals, measuring just how much of these chemicals actually gets into the body if products containing these chemicals come in contact with the skin.


Diffusion Cell Device

The success of the skin diffusion cell in providing an alternative to animal testing led to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) asking me to represent the industry and write a test guideline for dermal absorption testing that does not use animals. OECD 428 was approved in 2004 and now is the industry standard worldwide for dermal absorption testing.

"The collaboration, along with the availability of having the specialist technology at DTL to undertake the research, has also helped to launch the career of a new generation scientist."

It is this cutting-edge technology and DTL's involvement with the development of the OECD guideline which caught the eye of international companies and high-profile figures. These include Home Secretary Theresa May and the Secretary of State for Business Vince Cable, who have both visited DTL at Keele University Science and Business Park.

The technology DTL had to offer as well as our strong links with the University allowed an especially interesting piece of research in Dermatology to be conducted as part of a PhD project.

Funded jointly by the EPSRC, DTL, and the Faculty of Health at Keele University, the CASE Award involved PhD student Amy Judd working in DTL’s laboratories in Med IC4. She was jointly supervised by academics at Keele University’s School of Pharmacy, together with myself and other collaborators in the Laboratory of Biophysics and Surface Analysis at the University of Nottingham.

Amy’s PhD was focused on improving the dermal delivery of antimicrobial drugs, which are used to combat difficult hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA. The pioneering project involved novel imaging techniques to visualise nanoparticle-enhanced drug absorption through the skin.

The collaborative study produced important findings, which could have a significant impact on preventing hospital-acquired infection. Amy’s results were published in a series of high calibre journals and Amy has presented her research at The House of Commons to the Science and Technology Select Committee, as well as at major International Dermatology conferences.

It is opportunities like this that have not only raised the profile of DTL but also that of Keele University and continue to cement its reputation as a leading research institution on a national and international scale.

The collaboration, along with the availability of having the specialist technology at DTL to undertake the research, has also helped to launch the career of a new generation scientist. I can't think of a better measure of success for a collaboration than that.

Professor Jon Heylings is Chairman of Dermal Technology Laboratory Ltd

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