Accelerating skin disease research
State of the art biobank gives skin disease researchers all they need
Access to testing
If a dermatologist, for example, has a cohort of patients with a particular disease and is not sure how to go about studying the mechanism of that disease, the Human Skin Disease Resource Center can help.
Among the cutting edge analytic services available, there are new tissue imaging techniques that evaluate proteins and cells using multicolor immunofluorescence. The Center has an automated microscope with sophisticated software that images sections and counts how many of each cell type there are, and how much of the stained protein is expressed.
“That sample can also be used for gene expression analysis, using NanoString [NanoString Technologies] based arrays,” Dr. Clark says. “NanoString profiling gives you a picture of up to 800 genes in one test, and it works beautifully on formalin fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) samples, which are the type in most dermatology tissue archives. So with a single patient sample, you can do gene profiling to figure out what genes and pathways are activated. Then, by immunostaining sections from that same sample, you can look and see what cells express those genes and more. You can carry out a whole research project built around your own samples.
Two of the Center services are focused on immuno-analysis because many skin diseases are immune mediated. Center’s researchers can help design and analyze T-cell receptor, or TCR, sequencing studies, a one-step test that measures the number, diversity and TCR sequences of all T cells in a sample. It can be used to track particular T cell clones across many tissues and across time. For example, TCR sequencing is allowing rapid diagnosis of cutaneous T- cell lymphoma and measuring the number of malignant T- cells in skin and blood over time.
There’s more. The Center offers CyTOF, or cytometry by time-of-flight, analyses, a technique that allows researchers to take a small number of cells and study up to 64 markers at one time.
“CyTOF is one of those things that’s available at only the larger medical centers but we can do it for anyone that wants to run their samples,” Dr. Clark says.
The Center funds others’ research
The Human Skin Disease Resource Center also has money allotted to fund grants. Visiting scholar grants fund a researcher to visit the Center in order to learn how to work with human tissue and how to use new techniques. “Translation Accelerator” grants provide start up money for a researcher who wants to ask a particular question using human cells and tissues. The Center is particularly interested in supporting new investigators, investigators new to human skin research, and investigators who have only worked previously in mouse models.
Some of this is free
The Center is designed to provide a great deal of help, including resources, protocols and experimental design and approaches, for free. But researchers who carry out testing through the Center usually fund these studies from their own grants or other support, according to Dr. Clark.
“Part of the fun of this is having people reach out to us with research questions,” Dr. Clark says. “The more clinically relevant the question is, the more excited we are about it.”
Disclosure: Dr. Clark reports no relevant disclosures.