The team is at work exploring structures and architectures in nature. “Natural inspiration is a powerful motivation to develop new synthetic materials with unique properties,” observed Robert Ritchie, a co-leader of the study, who is based in Berkeley Lab's Material Sciences Division.
“The mechanistic understanding we’ve identified in skin could be applied to the improvement of artificial skin, or to the development of thin film polymers for applications such as flexible electronics,” he told AZO materials.
Apparently not much research has been done on skin tearing or its capacity to not tear easily. Previous research has looked at largely mechanical properties and collagen deformation.
In this study the team captured images of tearing skin with the help of small-angle X-ray scattering and transmission electron microscopy. “Our study is the first to model and directly observe in real time the micro-scale behaviour of the collagen fibrils associated with skin’s remarkable tear resistance,” asserted Ritchie.
Collagen in motion
The research team recognized four collagen functions that safeguard the skin again tearing. The fibers “rotate, straighten, stretch and slide to carry load and reduce the stresses at the tip of any tear in the skin,” said Ritchie.
So once punctured, skin first stretches and deforms rather than tear further. “The collagen fibrils became highly disordered and curvy, initially, and when a tear took place, these fibrils rearranged themselves in the direction of the tensil-loading. Before fracturing, they rotated, straightened, stretched, slided and delaminated,” explained the AZO article on the research.
Research and development on synthetic skin for use in cosmetics testing has been underway for several years. Eager to support alternatives to animal testing, PETA has been a source of funding in this area. Most recently the collaboration between Organovo and L’Oreal looks promising.
Personal care industry researchers could likely use the team’s data in other ways. Knowing more specifically how collagen behaves might lead to new actives that support collagen production and function or even to the development of collagen replacements.