5 January 2021

The Greater Boston Area has grown into a major hub for biotech and is home to several LEO Foundation grantees. All of them with an ambition to improve the understanding and treatment of skin diseases.

The area around Boston in Massachusetts is a world-leading hot spot for innovation in life science. It is an ecosystem of world-leading laboratories and research institutions, information technology and pharmaceutical companies, as well as incubator sites, start-ups, investors, and co-working spaces.

In the area you’ll find several of LEO Foundation’s grantees representing very different scientific disciplines within skin research. Some are chemists, some are biologists, some are doctors. Together they study a broad range of questions relevant to skin diseases – e.g. why skin thickens in psoriasis, how to combat skin infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria or how to develop new materials and technologies for diagnosis and treatment of skin diseases.

A hub for excellent international skin research

“The Greater Boston Area is known for the passion, ambition and dedication that exist among the people there. They create the special atmosphere and environment that enable great research and education. In the LEO Foundation, we aim to support the best dermatology research worldwide – and we are thrilled that some of our grants and awards go to the world-class scientists in the area conducting excellent research in order to provide better diagnoses, treatments and perhaps even cures for the millions of people living with skin diseases,” says Ida Brams, Chief Grant Officer, the LEO Foundation.

The heart of it all is Kendall Square in Cambridge – centre of the life science scene, tightly connected to and depending on an array of institutions, universities, and hospitals in other parts of the Greater Boston Area. In total, around fifty institutions of higher education are placed here.

Acne, psoriasis and new technologies for treatment

Just opposite Kendall Square on the other side of the river, you will find Longwood Medical and Academic Area, home to part of the famous Harvard University, including the Wyss Institute, where the two LEO Foundation grantees Professor George Church and Professor Samir Mitragoti have their laboratories

Professor of genetics, DNA sequencing pioneer and stakeholder in various human genetics companies, George Church, is – on a general level – working to make humans immune to all viruses, eliminate genetic diseases and reverse the aging process. The grant from the LEO Foundation supports his research into acne. To be more precise Church is looking into the possible genetic basis for acne and will be developing cell models with identified gene variations that may be used for evaluation of the treatment of acne.

Professor Samir Mitragotri’s research, focused on the fundamental understanding of biological barriers, has led to the development of new materials and technologies for diagnosis and treatment of various ailments including skin conditions and infections.

Furthermore, such prominent institutions as Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital are in the area. This is where two-times LEO Foundation grantee Professor George Murphy is performing his research. Together with Co-PIs and Associate Professors Markus H. Frank and Christine G. Lian he has identified a stem cell defect as a possible cause of chronic skin disease and he has uncovered a novel biological pathway that may explain why skin thickens in psoriasis, which could lead to new strategies for developing therapies.

Drug-resistant skin diseases and a LEO Foundation Award winner

Going back across the river you reach the main campus of Harvard University where you’ll find another LEO Foundation grantee – Professor Andrew G. Myers who studies complex molecules of importance in biology and human medicine. The aim of his research is to solve the crisis of antibiotic resistance and to combat skin infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria.

The main campus is also where you’ll find Associate Professor Ya-Chieh Hsu. She recently received the LEO Foundation 2020 Award – Region Americas in recognition of her research achievements in studying the skin and its diverse array of cell types and how the cells are influenced by niches, body physiology, and the external environment.

Whitehead fellows studying pigmentation and re-programming skin cells

Moving down Broadway from Harvard and turning right on Galileo Galilei Way in downtown Cambridge brings you past the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research where two more LEO Foundation grantees, Professor David M. Sabatini and Professor Rudolf Jaenisch, reside.

Professor of biology David M. Sabatini has received grants from the LEO Foundation two times. His main focus is on mechanisms that regulate cell growth. In the LEO Foundation project, he is investigating melanosomes – specialised organelles of pigment cells devoted to the synthesis, storage and transport of melanin pigment, which is responsible for most visible skin pigmentation. By refined understanding of melanosomes Sabatini hopes to improve treatment of pigmentation disorders.

Founding member of the Whitehead Institute Professor Rudolf Jaenisch is a pioneer of the transgenic science creating genetically modified mice in order to study human diseases. In his LEO Foundation project, he makes mouse-human organisms to study human development of skin cancer (melanoma) in mice with intact immune systems.

The scientists in the Greater Boston Area, who have received grants and awards from LEO Foundation

Andrew G. Myers, Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University

Project: Fully Synthetic Lincosamides to Combat Multidrug-Resistant Skin Infections (2018)
Grant: DKK 3.1m

David M. Sabatini, Professor of Biology at Whitehead Institute (two-times grantee)

Project 1. Probing the function of melanosomal transporters in pigmentation using metabolic profiling (2018)
Grant: DKK 1.3m

Project 2: A multi-pronged approach to decipher the role of melanosomal transporters in human pigmentation (2019)
Grant: DKK 2.7m

George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Wyss Institute

Project: Investigation of genetic variation and development of genetically defined cell models for Acne vulgaris therapeutic and cosmetic products evaluation (2020)
Grant: DKK 4m

George F. Murphy, M.D., Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School and at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (two-times grantee)

Project 1: Epidermal and dermal stem cells in psoriasis (2017)
Grant: DKK 3m

Project 2: Role of Skin Stem Cells in Psoriasis and Atopic Dermatitis (2019)
Grant: DKK 4m

Rudolf Jaenisch, Professor of Biology at Whitehead Institute and MIT

Project: In vivo model of human melanoma using a novel neural crest chimera system (2018)
Grant: DKK 2.5m

Samir Mitragotri, Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard University, Wyss Institute

Project: Nucleic Acid Ionic Liquids (NAILs) for Topical Skin Applications (2018)
Grant: DKK 2m

Ya-Chieh Hsu, Associate Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University and an associate member of the Broad Institute

Project:  2020 LEO Foundation Award – Region Americas (2020)
Award: USD 100,000