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    Accelerating skin disease research

    State of the art biobank gives skin disease researchers all they need

    Rachael A. Clark, M.D., Ph.D.Dr. ClarkHarvard Medical School houses the state of the art Partners Healthcare Biobank, containing human pathology specimens and information about living consented patients - all records searchable by diagnoses - as well as access to cutting edge human analytic techniques. Now, thanks to a new National Institutes of Health- (NIH-) funded center, these resources are available to anyone interested in carrying out translational skin disease research on human cells and tissues.

    In mid-2016, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School received a five-year $4.35 million NIH grant to establish the Human Skin Disease Resource Center (www.humanskin.org).

    “The purpose of our center is to accelerate human skin disease research. We provide human samples and cutting edge human analytic techniques to anyone at any institution who wants to carry out human skin disease research,” Rachael A. Clark, M.D., Ph.D., a dermatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and director of the Human Skin Disease Resource Center, tells Dermatology Times. “The reason I wanted to establish this Center is that there are many unrecognized differences between mice and humans. If you read, for example, Nature Medicine, most of the work presented is carried out in mice. But between 90 and 95% of the cancer therapies that work in mice don’t work in humans.”

    Dr. Clark, who presented on the Center and other research topics at the March 2017 American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla., says the need to transition skin research from animals to humans is paramount.

    “For example, all the therapies designed in mouse models to combat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection have failed in human trials,” Dr. Clark says.

    Human tissue for the taking

    Human skin disease research has evolved in big ways, she says.

    “It used to be that there weren’t a lot of great techniques to study human cells and tissues, but that has really changed over the last five years,” Dr. Clark says.

    Not only have techniques evolved, but so has the availability of biobanks to provide disease-specific tissue samples.

    “The whole point of our center is to give these resources to anyone, anywhere, who wants to do this type of research, with the goal of making observations we know will work in our patients,” she says.

    Dermatologists and other researchers interested in a skin disease — any skin disease — can tap into two separate biobanks at the Center — one containing 5 million FFPE-preserved human tissue samples and one with 22,000 characterized and fully consented living patients. The Center has serum, blood DNA and gene variant chip profiling from those patients and are able to call the patients in for further study.

    “Let’s say you are interested in psoriasis and want to know if a particular gene variant is overexpressed. Around 12,000 living patients are genotyped, and we have over a thousand psoriasis patients. You could access these patients and healthy controls without psoriasis to see if that gene variant is shared. Then, you could have them come in and give blood, to see how that gene variant changes the way the immune cells behave,” Dr. Clark explains.

    The Center also can provide researchers with human engrafted mice. These immunodeficient mice, grafted with human skin grafts and injected with blood from a second donor, develop an inflammatory dermatitis. This model is ideal for studying skin inflammation and testing novel topical and systemic therapies on human skin and immune cells in an accessible animal model.

    “One the goals of our Center is to bring more dermatologists into translational skin disease research,” Dr. Clark says. “We can help you design the experiments and even carry them out for you.”

    NEXT: Access to testing

    Lisette Hilton
    Lisette Hilton is a writer in Boca Raton, Fla., who heads up her company, Words Come Alive.

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