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A short note on impact : SMiHA conference

Alyx Mattison.

If you reside in the higher education or UK Research and Innovation world, you will be very familiar with the idea of research impact – for those from a different sector, this is the academic label assigned to the idea that research should benefit society. And of course it should. Why else would we spend our time, mental energy, money and resources doing research if it won’t make a difference to or at least be of interest to a wider community than the researchers themselves?

At the SMiHA conference last month, there was a very clear message about the potential for this topic to have impact – increasing numbers of people are continuing to get older for longer, while simultaneously, the health of our skin is declining. This is not purely an aesthetic issue; unhealthy skin can be a reflection of less visible health issues and can also open the door to more chronic or fatal conditions like infection. The conference talks demonstrated the multitude of ways that research is already beginning to identify the factors involved in aging skin and potential ways of maintaining a healthy skin microbiome for longer. So how can we, as researchers, funders, industry partners, consumers, make sure that this research actually makes a difference?

Collaboration and interdisciplinarity were two ideas that came up quite a bit, both in the talks themselves and in conversation. At its core, studying the microbiome of aging skin requires bringing the distinct disciplines of microbiology and skin sciences together. However, the backgrounds and specialties of conference attendees were far more varied than this, from female health to medical disinfectant to dermatology, but they were brought together by the ubiquitous importance of healthy aging. Researchers need industry to adopt their research, industry needs research to inform their product, and policymakers need all of us to get it right. Only by continuing, and increasing, this level of collaboration and interdisciplinary knowledge exchange developed by the SMiHA network, can demonstrable impact occur.

Of course, getting together to chat (sorry, network) and eat a nice buffet lunch will only get us so far. Several ideas came up in conversation about how to work towards making that more sustainable difference. Using research to inform cosmetic regulations, so that companies are forced to back up ‘microbiome’ claims, was raised several times, as was going straight to the public to help the average person understand the microbiome and make more informed choices. The later applies not just to cosmetic purchases, but to all those lifestyle choices that have an effect on skin. Teaching people to make healthier choices that prevent unhealthy skin will have the secondary impact of reducing pressure on the healthcare system, and as Richard Farragher pointed out in his talk, there is a lot of good in a number of sectors that can be done with the money saved by reducing stress on the healthcare system.

Going forward, (in my best Ted Lasso voice), let’s all continue to research, continue to work together, and continue to communicate to wider communities, so that we can make a difference!

(And thank you to everyone I accosted at lunch time for feeding into this blog post)

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