Press Releases for 1994

NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
For immediate release
July 1994
Contact: Elia Ben-Arii
Office of Scientific and
Health Communications
(301) 496-8188

NIAMS Reaches Goal of Six Skin Disease Research Centers

In a move that indicates its continuing committment to advancing understanding of skin diseases, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) has funded three new Skin Disease Research Core Centers (SDRCs) and renewed funding of one of the original SDRCs, bringing the total number of these centers to six. The four newly funded SDRCs are at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia; Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts; Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee; and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. There are two additional SDRCs, established in 1992, at Yale University and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

"These centers will be an exciting addition to our Skin Disease Research Core Center program," said Julia Freeman, Ph.D., Director of the Centers Program at the NIAMS. "The range of themes is broad, and the principal investigators are young senior investigators entering the prime of their scientific leadership roles," said Dr. Freeman. The SDRCs, begun in 1988, are the first federally funded research centers in dermatology.

The advent of modern cellular and molecular biology has enabled research hitherto only dreamed of in many areas of medicine, including dermatology. Largely as a result of this, research in skin diseases is at a stage where broad advances can be fostered effectively by research core centers, which provide resources for a number of established investigators, often from different disciplines, to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to common research problems.

The SDRCs take advantage of the strengths of both basic and clinical researchers and promote research collaborations that enhance productivity. Core units are established that provide shared facilities, equipment and technical services. In addition, these research centers support short- term, innovative pilot projects that involve exploration of new research directions. These projects enable established skin disease researchers to pursue new, innovative ideas. They also allow new, young investigators or established investigators from other fields to apply their expertise to problems related to skin diseases.

At the new SDRC at Emory University School of Medicine, headed by S. Wright Caughman, M.D., researchers will focus on the physiology of cells that line tiny blood vessels in human skin and their role in skin disease. These cells, called dermal microvascular endothelial cells, play an important role in skin immune and inflammatory responses. Thomas Lawley, M.D., Associate Director of the SDRC and Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Emory, recently achieved a major breakthrough in facilitating study of these cells by developing an effective way to grow them in the laboratory dish.

Some of the pilot projects proposed by this group include research on the regulation of an enzyme that participates in wound healing, the study of factors that control homing of white blood cells to tiny blood vessels in the skin during inflammation, and investigation of factors that cause Kaposi's sarcoma, a type of skin cancer often found in HIV-infected patients.

Scientists at Brigham and Women's Hospital and nearby biomedical research institutions, under the leadership of Thomas S. Kupper, M.D., will use genetically engineered mice to investigate the fundamental mechanisms of a broad range of skin diseases. Molecular genetic techniques will be used to create either transgenic mice, which carry specific genes relevant to skin disease, or so- called knockout mice, in which genes are deleted that are believed to play a role in skin disease. These mice will serve as powerful experimental models that enable researchers to study the roles of various genes thought to be important in skin diseases.

The research projects to be conducted by members of this SDRC should aid in understanding diseases such as skin cancer; acute and chronic inflammatory skin disorders of both immune and non-immune origin such as eczema, allergic reactions, and graft rejection; and the role of certain skin immune cells in the transmission of HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS.

At Vanderbilt University Medical Center and its associated Veterans Administration hospital, George Stricklin, M.D., Ph.D., will serve as director of a Skin Disease Research Core Center with the theme of "extracellular matrix, cytokines and their receptors in skin diseases." The extracellular matrix refers to substances found in the spaces between cells, some of which participate in cell-to-cell communication; cytokines are chemical messengers that carry signals between cells by binding to specific cell-surface receptors and activating various responses within the cell.

Research efforts at the Vanderbilt SDRC will focus on skin growth, development, and repair, and will be relevant to wound healing and proliferative diseases such as psoriasis and various skin cancers. The proposed pilot projects include study of the genetic basis of familial dysplastic nevus syndrome, an inherited disorder in which individuals are predisposed to melanoma; a model for invasion and metastasis of human melanoma; study of the molecular control of hair growth; and investigations of the role of certain cytokines and extracellular matrix components on wound healing and chronic non-healing wounds.

The SDRC award to Case Western Reserve University represents continued funding of an existing center, under new direction by Craig Elmets, M.D. Since its establishment by the NIAMS in 1988, this center has achieved many of the goals of the SDRC program, including fostering interdisciplinary collaborations that are greatly advancing skin disease research and attracting more talented young investigators to the study of major problems in skin biology and skin diseases. Some of the collaborative projects fostered during the first 5 years of this SDRC include studies of the structural changes that occur in aging skin and work to develop a genetically engineered "biological bandage" that promotes wound healing.

Dr. Elmets will lead a diverse group of researchers concentrating on four themes: skin cancer, immunodermatology (the study of immune reactions in skin), structural biology, and epidemiology. Specific areas to be pursued include the mechanisms of metastasis (spreading) of human malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer; the role of a key enzyme in hair follicle structure, skin cell development, and skin disease; the involvement of a specific gene in disorders of pigmentation such as albinism; and development of objective ways to measure the impact of chronic skin disease on patients' health.

The principal investigators at the four newly funded Skin Disease Research Core Centers are:

Dr. S. Wright Caughman
Department of Dermatology
Emory University School of Medicine
1639 Pierce Drive, Room 5001 WMB
Atlanta, GA 30322
(404) 727-5872

Dr. Thomas S. Kupper
Department of Medicine
Division of Dermatology
Brigham and Women's Hospital
75 Francis Street
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 278-0993

Dr. Craig A. Elmets
Department of Dermatology
University Hospitals of Cleveland
Case Western Reserve University
11100 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 844-3178

Dr. George P. Stricklin
Department of Medicine
Division of Dermatology
Vanderbilt University
1211 21st Avenue South
620 Medical Arts Building
Nashville, TN 37212
(615) 936-1135

Principal investigators of the other two SDRCs are:

Dr. Robert E. Tigelaar
Department of Dermatology
Yale University School of Medicine
333 Cedar Street
New Haven, CT 06510
(203) 785-4968

Dr. Paul R. Bergstresser
Department of Dermatology
University of Texas
Southwest Medical Center
5323 Harry Hines Boulevard
Dallas, TX 75235
(214) 648-3493