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Dermatology Branch

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The Dermatology Branch conducts both clinical and basic research studying the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of inflammatory and malignant diseases involving the skin and the host's response to these diseases. Laboratory research involves biochemical as well as biological studies of skin and is carried out in distinct, though frequently interacting, laboratories and in the clinic as well. Research areas of interest include characterizing skin as an immunological organ and defining the role of dendritic cells and molecules expressed by dendritic cells in the generation of skin-centered immune responses. There is significant emphasis on graft versus host disease (and related conditions) in mice and humans, and on the cutaneous microbiome in normal individuals as well as patients with atopic dermatitis and selected primary immunodeficiencies. Other investigations involve long-term clinical and laboratory studies of DNA repair in cohorts of patients with xeroderma pigmentosum, trichothiodystrophy and related diseases. The Branch laboratory research portfolio also includes studies of skin stem cells and cutaneous malignancies, including Merkel cell carcinoma.

The Branch conducts clinical studies in a broad range of diseases. Some studies are led by Branch investigators while others are collaborative and led by others. Observational as well as interventional studies are pursued. The Dermatology Branch Consultation Service is one of the busiest clinical services in the Clinical Research Center and is responsible for all outpatient and inpatient dermatologic patient care that is delivered at the NIH.

The Dermatology Branch also has a long tradition of being a laboratory and clinical fellowship training center for individuals who have become outstanding physician/scientists and leaders in investigative dermatology in the United States and abroad.

Independent research efforts are highlighted below:

Isaac Brownell, M.D, Ph.D. (Tenure-track Investigator)

Dr. Brownell is interested in the specification and maintenance of stem cell populations in the skin, and the biology of cutaneous malignancies. In particular, he studies cells in the cutaneous neuroendocrine lineage (Merkel cells), their regulation by signaling factors, their microenvironment, and how they transform to become Merkel cell carcinoma. In complementary clinical studies, Dr. Brownell investigates the oncogenomics of Merkel cell carcinoma, tumor and patient biomarkers, as well as the clinic efficacy of immunotherapy for this rare but deadly skin cancer.

Edward W. Cowen, M.D. (Senior Clinician)

Dr. Cowen's primary research interest involves chronic graft-versus-host disease (cGVHD). He is Co-Study Chair of a multi-disciplinary NIH initiative aimed at the study and treatment of cGVHD (NCI #04-C-0281) and Principal Investigator of a Phase II study of imatinib mesylate in children and adults with sclerotic-type cGVHD of the skin (NCI #08-C-0148). Dr. Cowen also has a particular interest in autoinflammatory diseases and recently initiated a study of an IL-1 receptor antagonist for the treatment of severe neutrophilic skin disease (NCI #13-C-0071). Other interests include primary immunodeficiencies, cancer-associated genodermatoses, and adverse drug reactions.

Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D. (Senior Investigator)

Over the years, Dr. Katz's laboratory has focused on the skin immune system - and the role of epidermal Langerhans cells and keratinocytes as generators and amplifiers of immune and inflammatory responses in skin. In the past several years his group has emphasized studies of a murine model of graft versus host disease (GvHD) elucidating mechanistic aspects of the pathophysiology of this disorder and exploring strategies for modulation of disease by synthetic peptides and other small molecules.

Heidi H. Kong, M.D. (Tenure-track Investigator)

Dr. Kong's research interest is in exploring skin microbial communities to understand their relevance to human health and dermatologic diseases. Her work currently focuses on genomic-based studies of skin microbiota in health, patients with atopic dermatitis and patients with primary immunodeficiency diseases and atopic dermatitis-like skin eruptions.

Kenneth H. Kraemer, M.D. (Senior Investigator)

Working closely with Dr. John J. DiGiovanna (Staff Clinician), Dr. Kraemer investigates the role of DNA repair in prevention of cancer and in human development. The approach involves integrated clinical, molecular, and translational investigations of disorders with defective DNA repair. Current studies are focusing on two rare genetic diseases: xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) a cancer prone genetic disease with cellular hypersensitivity to ultraviolet radiation (UV) and defective DNA repair and trichothiodystrophy (TTD) a disorder with developmental abnormalities and defects in some of the same genes as XP without increased cancer risk. The long term goals are to: 1) define the molecular defects in these diseases, 2) characterize their clinical abnormalities and extent of phenotypic heterogeneity, 3) correlate the molecular defects with clinical abnormalities, 4) assess the altered molecular function, 5) identify and characterize the underlying mechanisms (pathophysiology) and how they lead to clinical disease and 6) influence these processes by exploring methods of cancer prevention.

Mark C. Udey M.D., Ph.D. (Branch Chief and Senior Investigator)

Dr. Udey studies immunophysiology of skin with a particular focus on skin dendritic cells including epidermal Langerhans cells, and proteins that are selectively expressed by Langerhans cells. EpCAM (Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule; CD326) is of particular current interest and studies of EpCAM function in vivo in Langerhans cells and selected epithelia are being actively pursued.

This page was last updated on 2/21/2013.