The LEO Foundation Award 2016 – Silver Award

Grantee: Dr. Thomas Wiesner

Amount: DKK 500,000

Presented to Dr. Thomas Wiesner. Dr. Wiesner is breaking new ground to find new mechanism-based cancer therapies. Following medical school, Dr. Wiesner wrote his thesis on the genomic aberrations of cutaneous lymphoma and completed his residency in dermatology at the Medical University of Graz in Austria. Dr. Wiesner spent five years conducting basic and translational research using cutting-edge techniques within high-throughput sequencing techniques in particular. His work within skin cancer research resulted in key discoveries, in particular concerning the genomic landscape of skin tumours.

Based on his experience as a physician-scientist and his access to high-quality clinical samples, Dr. Wiesner plans to combine high-throughput sequencing technologies, computational approaches and functional assays in order to define the relevant genomic and epigenomic aberrations in skin cancer and pave the way for new mechanism-based cancer therapies.

The LEO Foundation Award 2016 – Gold Award

Grantee: Dr. Amaya Virós

Amount: DKK 1,000,000

Presented to Dr. Virós who has made important contributions to the area of skin research by describing mechanisms behind the development of squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. She has published in top-ranking scientific journals and received a number of prestigious awards, including a recent Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinician Scientist Fellowship to set up her laboratory at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute in the newly-built Manchester Cancer Research Centre, UK, which is based at The University of Manchester.

Dr. Virós will focus her future research on the under-researched area of skin cancer and ageing. Ageing skin appears to have unique properties and patterns of tumour development that may explain the surprising increase in aggressive primary melanoma and mortality from this disease. Her aim is to identify the factors in elderly people that make them more prone to developing melanoma and less likely to survive once they develop the disease.

The LEO Foundation Award 2016 – Silver Award to young scientist in Japan

Grantee: Dr. Yu Sawada, research fellow, Department of Dermatology, Kyoto University and assistant professor, University of Environmental and Medical Health, Kitakyushu

Amount: DKK 250,000

The LEO Foundation has offered the LEO Foundation Silver Award 2016 to Yu Sawada for his pioneering dermatological research. The award has been bestowed in collaboration with the Japanese Society for Investigative Dermatology (JSID).

The award ceremony took place in Sendai, Japan, at the 41st annual conference of JSID on 11 December 2016.

Dr. Yu Sawada currently holds the position as a research fellow at the Department of Dermatology in Kyoto University and assistant professor at the University of Environmental and Medical Health in Kitakyushu. Dr. Sawada’s research focuses on establishing and implementing a new therapeutic paradigm for the improvement of inflammatory skin diseases through medical treatment in combination with specific lifestyle alterations such as diet, sleep and physical exercise.

The LEO Foundation Award 2016 – Gold Award to young scientist in Japan

Grantee: Dr. Ayumi Yoshizaki, lecturer and independent researcher, Department of Dermatology, Graduate School of Medicine, The University of Tokyo

Amount: DKK 500,000

The LEO Foundation has offered the LEO Foundation Gold Award 2016 to Ayumi Yoshizaki for his pioneering dermatological research. The award has been bestowed in collaboration the Japanese Society for Investigative Dermatology (JSID).

The award ceremony took place in Sendai, Japan, at the 41st annual conference of JSID on 11 December 2016.

Dr. Ayumi Yoshizaki is a lecturer and an independent researcher in the field of dermatological autoimmune diseases based at Department of Dermatology, Graduate School of Medicine, The University of Tokyo. Dr. Yoshizaki has his own research group, an impressive list of publications and is well acknowledged by the Japanese dermatological and scientific communities. His future research is focused on autoimmune diseases related to the skin, particularly systemic sclerosis (SSc). His lab uses highly innovative techniques to explore the role of auto-reactive B cells in SSc at the single cell level. He is a rising star that very well could establish himself as a leader in his field globally.

Influence of microbes on development of skin diseases

Grantee: Anders Johannes Hansen, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, Robert Gniadecki, MD, Professor, Dermatology Department, Bispebjerg Hospital, Copenhagen, Kim Holmstrøm, R&D Manager, Department of Biomedical Technology, Bioneer A/S, Denmark, and Nicola Segata, PhD, Assistant Professor and Principal Investigator, Computational Metagenomics, CIBIO, University of Trento, Italy

Amount: DKK 5,035,000

By combining new data from the human skin microbiome with existing knowledge of pathophysiology and clinical phenotypes of Atopic Dermatitis, AD, Actinic Keratosis, AK and non-melanoma skin cancer, the team will seek to establish a novel understanding of these diseases.

Recent microbiome analyses have revealed that mammalian body surfaces are colonized by vast numbers of bacterial communities, which motivates the exploration of the role of the microbiota in normal and diseased skin. There are indications that the skin microbiome plays a key role in both inflammatory skin disease and non-melanoma skin cancer.

The vision for the team’s research endeavours is to explore the microbiome for the identification of new targets for treatment, and for the development of improved treatment modalities for patients with AD, AK and non-melanoma skin cancer.

The team’s explorations will potentially also lead to the development of better and more specific and sensitive diagnostic and prognostic methods for monitoring skin disease.

The Danish-Italian team will work from a unique microbiome discovery platform established at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) within the GenomeDenmark Cancer & Pathogen project. The platform utilizes procedures enriching various types of microbes combined with state of the art DNA and RNA sequencing and bioinformatics data analysis.

Skin barrier dysfunction and thymus size during the first year of life as predictors for atopic dermatitis

Grantee: Jacob P. Thyssen MD PhD DmSci, Trine Danvad Nilausen MD, Lone Skov MD PhD DmSci, Dep. Dermatology and Allergology, Herlev-Gentofte Hospital, Hellerup, Denmark, Caroline Ewertsen MD PhD, Department of Radiology, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark, Charlotte Bonefeld PhD, Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, Pal Szecsi MD DmSci, Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Herlev-Gentofte Hospital, Hellerup , Denmark, Sanja Kezic PhD, Coronel Institute, AMC, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Christoph Riethmüller PhD, nAnostic Institute, Centre for Nanotechnology, University of Münster, Germany

Amount: DKK 2,558,500

The study is foreseen to increase the understanding of the skin barrier and immune system in atopic dermatitis.

Through international collaboration with scientists who perform state of the art and pioneering analyses on skin samples as well as national collaboration with immunologists and radiologists, the team will seek to evaluate non-invasive and easily collectable biomarkers that can predict the risk for atopic dermatitis.

The study has the potential to provide insight in atopic dermatitis pathogenesis and the value of promising pre-atopic dermatitis biomarkers that indicate both inflammation and skin barrier barriers dysfunction. This could be used to develop an algorithm that can better predict the onset of atopic dermatitis.

The team’s work may thus substantially increase the understanding of skin biology in neonates, both normal and diseased. The study will also provide a basis for not only future large-scale observational studies, but also randomised controlled studies evaluating the efficacy of preventive skin barrier restoration or anti-inflammatory treatment in selected groups, potentially reducing the incidence and complications of the most common skin disease in childhood.

The Human Skin Immune Atlas: Three-dimensional reconstruction of serial histology and computational image analysis of dermal immune populations in normal and diseased skin

Grantee: Philip L. Tong, PhD, Department of Dermatology, Royal Prince Albert Hospital, University of Sydney, Australia, Dr Ben Roediger and Professor Wolgang Weninger, Centenary Institute, Newtown, Australia, and Dr Weimiao Yu, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, A*STAR, Singapore

Amount: DKK 708,500

This research project, led by Dr Philip Tong from the University of Sydney, has the potential to represent a technological advancement in the field of human skin immunological research. By use of 3D histological reconstruction and computational image analysis, the aim is to develop the world’s first Human Skin Immune Atlas of dermal immune populations in normal and diseased skin.

The members of the team assembled for this project are already established experts in the fields of skin immunology, microscopy, inflammation and computational analysis, and the project will have an international platform with sites across Asia and Oceania.

The skin is a complex organ, wherein topographical and micro-compartmental specialisation of the immune system has been demonstrated. The general spatial understanding of the skin immune system has been advanced through the use of transgenic laboratory animals with live imaging tools. These, however, have yet to be validated in humans. The work realised in this project may provide fundamental insights into the human skin immune system.

Moreover, the data generated may have wide reaching implications for the development of better in vitro skin substitutes, validation of in vivo microscopic skin imaging tools for human use and improved quantification of skin inflammation in clinical trial settings.

Skin and blood biomarkers of atopic dermatitis in different paediatric age groups

Grantee: Dr Emma Guttmann, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY, USA

Amount: DKK 11,500,000

Atopic dermatitis (AD), or atopic eczema, is the world’s most common inflammatory skin disorder. Its prevalence has increased during the past few decades and can now be found to be more than 20% in children and 10% in adults.

For children, there is an unmet need for improved therapy for moderate to severe AD and it is likely that therapeutics with proven safety and efficacy in adults will move towards to trials in children. There are, however, when gauging the pathogenesis and characteristic biomarkers related to AD, significant differences between children and adults.

Dr. Guttmann’s study purports to shed light on these differences to enlarge the understanding of biomarkers and to clarify when children transition to the adult biomarker pattern that predicts responses. Correlating the validity of biomarkers in adults with AD vs. different age groups of children and adolescents with AD (including 5-12 and 12-17 years olds) is a critical step before engaging in large clinical trials.

Given the challenge in obtaining biopsies from children during clinical trials, defining a set of biomarkers in blood will prove extremely valuable in these large patient populations. More specifically, the study will address the following questions:

  • What are the cutaneous biomarkers in AD in children and adolescents of different age groups and how do these compare with disease activity, epidermal barrier function, and known biomarkers in both infancy/early childhood and adult AD skin?
  • Are there useful biomarkers in the blood of children and adolescents with AD that compare well with skin immune and barrier biomarkers, and could these enable a less invasive means to follow biomarker changes and direct skin therapy than skin biopsies?
  • At what age do children acquire an “adult” AD phenotype?

A longitudinal investigation of skin barrier development from birth and the validation of early predictors of AD risk: the skin testing for atopic dermatitis risk (STAR) trial

Grantee: Dr Simon G. Danby, Independent Research Fellow, University of Sheffield Medical School, UK, Professor Michael J. Cork and Mr J. Chittock, University of Sheffield, UK, and Dame, Professor Tina Lavender and Dr Alison Cooke, The University of Manchester, UK

Amount: DKK 2,115,500

Atopic dermatitis (AD) is one of the most common chronic inflammatory skin conditions and prevalence of the disease seems to grow. Early onset of AD is often followed by development of other allergic conditions such as food allergies, asthma and allergic rhinitis – all together the most chronic diseases of childhood and a major financial burden to health services.

Evidence suggests that a skin barrier defect is the primary event in development of AD.

With this research project, a longitudinal neonate/infant cohort study, the team led by Dr Simon G. Danby seeks to investigate the development of the skin barrier from birth, before the development of AD, to 12 months of age, when the majority of AD cases have developed. The team has extensive experience in the characterisation of the skin barrier in AD patients and in conducting clinical trials in neonates.

In the study, the team will compare three technologies for the quantification of established biomarkers attributed to skin barrier function and AD severity, for their accuracy and feasibility at predicting onset of AD by 12 months of age.

In addition, the team’s multi-analytical approach may provide new insights into skin barrier development in neonates and the identification of tools that could help determine who do and do not go onto develop AD. The study thus has the potential to help drive forth a new generation of patient solutions specifically designed for neonates at risk of developing AD.

Chemiexcitation in Human Disease

Grantee: Douglas E. Brash, PhD, Professor, Departments Therapeutic Radiology and Dermatology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA, and Etelvino Bechara, PhD, Professor, Institute of Chemistry, University Sao Paulo & Federal University, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Amount: DKK 281,000

The LEO Foundation has granted support to a conference on chemiexcitation in human disease to be held at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Long Island, NY. The initiative will bring together a select group of internationally renowned scientists with the goal of combining expertise from several fields to explore the ramifications of a previously unrecognized mode of disease – chemical excitation of electrons (“chemiexcitation”).

Chemiexcitation is a high-energy biophysical process that underlies bioluminescence, but it had not been observed in mammals until a finding that chemiexcitation sent melanocytes down the path to melanoma when two key enzymes were activated by ultraviolet light.

The insight driving the conference is that the same chemistry will occur wherever nitric oxide, superoxide, and melanin are present at the same time, so chemiexcitation may also be a hidden step in diseases where sunlight is not involved.

The three chemical reactants co-occur during inflammation and ischemia-reperfusion injury, so chemiexcitation may underlie skin cancers arising in burn scars and it may operate during wound healing, hypertrophic scarring, skin flap reconstructive surgery, and skin aging. The same reactants are also present in neurodegenerations such as Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s, in deafness induced by noise or drugs, and in macular degeneration.

A first outcome of the 3.5 day conference will be a white paper outlining plausible chemiexcitation pathways for the diseases or pathologic reactions as well as identifying promising avenues of scientific investigation and feasible routes to blocking chemiexcitation.

A second outcome will be a website to provide a technical foundation for new colleagues – including young scientists. Modified versions of slides from the conference will be posted, including a recollection of what is already understood in each area, and presented as a list of principles and expositions in the style of Molecular Biology of the Gene. The website will also present lists of resources and the chemistry, biology, and pathology questions that are still in need of an answer.