26 May 2021
Diet changes to help eczema patients. New biomaterials to reduce scarring. Improved imaging tools to diagnose skin conditions. The LEO Foundation has just awarded grants totaling DKK 12 million to three excellent skin research projects.
Three ambitious skin research projects from the University of California – San Francisco, the University of California – Los Angeles and the University of Sheffield are the latest to receive funding from the LEO Foundation.
The LEO Foundation research grants are awarded in open competition to support the best skin research projects worldwide.
Low-sodium diet to help eczema patients
Associate Professor Katrina Abuabara is a dermatologist and epidemiologist from UCSF. With the new project she aims to test the hypothesis that excess sodium consumption can worsen eczema.
“The increased global prevalence of eczema cannot be attributed to genetics alone, suggesting that environmental factors such as climate, air pollutants or diet may trigger or flare the disease. Dietary sodium intake warrants additional investigation because studies have shown high rates of sodium storage in the skin of patients with eczema and that high sodium concentrations can trigger inflammatory responses,” Katrina Abuabara said.
To study this, Katrina Abuabara will enroll 30 participants and employ a novel Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technique that enables accurate quantification of skin sodium concentration.
“If sodium restriction proves to be beneficial, it could lead to actionable impact on eczema patients as a cost-effective, low-risk intervention that could be implemented in low resource settings,” Katrina Abuabara said.
New wound-healing biomaterials to reduce scarring
Assistant Professor Philip Scumpia from the Division of Dermatology at UCLA investigates a new wound-healing biomaterial that may allow wounds to heal by skin regeneration instead of scar formation.
“Previous studies have shown that activating the immune system can be used to tilt the balance of wound healing from tissue destruction and scar formation to tissue repair and skin regeneration. In this new project we will further investigate and identify the cells and signals from the immune system responsible for switching the wound environment into a regenerative state,” Philip Scumpia said.
Single-cell RNA-sequencing, multiplexed immunofluorescent microscopy, and bioinformatics analyses will be applied to directly assess cell interactions at the molecular level.
Longer wavelength of laser light to improve skin imaging tool
Professor Stephen Matcher is based in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Electronic and Technical Engineering. His project focuses on the light-based skin imaging tool called optical coherence tomography (OCT) for the study of eczema.
Tools such as OCT have enabled us to see beneath the skin surface, allowing us to see changes in the skin which are hidden and impossible to assess by eye, simply by shining light into the skin. Yet, one problem with the current OCT systems is that if the skin inflammation becomes too high, it becomes difficult to quantify because OCT can only penetrate depths of around 1 mm. With the new project Stephen Matcher wants to improve the OCT tool by using a longer wavelength of laser light.
“It is our hope that by demonstrating and improving the advantages of harmless imaging techniques, we can reduce the need for painful biopsies in the future. Long term, this may help us to improve the way healthcare professionals monitor and treat eczema,” Stephen Matcher said.
Research projects selected for funding
Application and evaluation process
The LEO Foundation received a total of 45 applications from 17 different countries for the application round. The three awarded projects have passed the academic evaluation performed by the LEO Foundation’s independent Scientific Evaluation Committee and have received final approval by the LEO Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
New application round in June
The LEO Foundation invites applications for research projects focusing on the skin and its diseases on an ongoing basis. The next application round opens 2 June 2021 with deadline for submission on 30 June 2021.
The competition is open to talented skin researchers at PhD level or above from any country. The typical grant amount applied for is DKK 2-4 million for a period of 1-3 years.
Researchers who would like to apply for a LEO Foundation research grant can apply here.