Louise Chow, Ph.D., and her research team in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics are very familiar with skin cells. Research they published earlier this year marked the first time researchers reproduced the entire infection cycle of HPV-18 in primary human-skin cells.
A pilot and feasibility program grant Chow’s team received from the UAB Skin Diseases Research Center (SDRC) is enabling them to explore a new direction — developing human-induced pluripotent stem cells from primary skin cells. The ultimate goal is to correct genetic skin disease.
|Craig Elmets, right, director of the UAB SDRC, says broad research efforts and the ability to secure considerable grant funding during the first five-year period explains the NIH renewal of UAB’s funding.
“It’s certainly a learning experience and gets us into a new field,” Chow says. “And without the pilot funding from the SDRC, we would not be able to attempt the exploration.”
The Department of Dermatology recently had its competitive renewal application for the SDRC funded for five years by the National Institutes of Health. It’s the second consecutive five-year award for the SDRC, one of six interdisciplinary centers of excellence in investigative dermatology. Among the four universities that re-applied for the grant, UAB was the only SDRC to receive a renewal.
“These are very competitive awards,” says Craig Elmets, M.D., director of the SDRC. “This award enables us to integrate skin disease research at the university, bring together precious resources and focus them on common goals that relate to skin disease. It also enables us to attract new researchers into skin research, which provides new ideas.”
Components of SDRC
The SDRC has three components:
• Core services that are applied for research
• A pilot and feasibility study program
• An enrichment program that supports a seminar series, journal clubs and research conferences
The SDRC has funded 11 pilot and feasibility programs to date. Chow’s application, one of three studies selected for the 2009-2010 year, highlights the diverse interest in skin research at UAB.
The other studies are exploring the role of the innate immune system in regulation of UVB-induced skin carcinogenesis (Nabiha Yusuf, Ph.D.) and investigating the requirement for Tbet expression during psoriasis (Lourie Harrington, Ph.D.).
“The programs bring new ideas to cutaneous biology and dermatologic research that will provide new insights into a variety of different diseases,” Elmets says.
Four areas of interest
The SDRC currently has four primary areas of interest:
• Immuno-dermatology, especially in the area of allergic contact dermatitis. The most notable example would be poison ivy. It also includes the areas of psoriasis, blistering diseases of the skin and autoimmune skin diseases.
• Skin cancer, the most prevalent form of cancer with more than 1 million cases reported each year in the United States. “We’re looking at ways to prevent skin cancer and better methods for its treatment,” Elmets says.
• Genetic skin diseases, particularly in the area of neurofibromatosis. It’s a disorder that can cause tumors to grow on nerves and produce other abnormalities such as skin changes and bone deformities. “We’re also looking at other genetic skin diseases, including epidermolysis bullosa in which the integrity of the skin is deficient, and in its most serious form can lead to death at an early age,” Elmets says.
• Biochemistry of the skin, focused on research related to discovering the genes and proteins altered in various types of skin diseases.
The SDRC was selected for renewal in part because of these broad research efforts and its ability to secure considerable grant funding during its first five-year period.
“We increased our grant funding substantially and used funds for the pilot and feasibility studies that evolved into much larger grants,” Elmets says. “We also developed a fellowship training program and made some significant findings. For example, we identified some agents that show promise in preventing skin cancer. We’ve completed some human trials that showed some very promising results, but we need to do additional studies.”
Elmets says building on the success of the first five years will be a challenge. But the SDRC has grown to include 39 investigators from 14 different departments within UAB, and Elmets is confident it will continue to make great discoveries during the next five years.
“Our goal is to continue to strengthen investigative dermatology at UAB and expand what we’ve already accomplished,” Elmerts says.