The aryl hydrocarbon receptor integrates signals from the commensal yeast Malassezia to attenuate inflammation in the atopic skin

Grantee: Salomé LeibundGut-Landmann, Professor, University of Zurich

Amount: DKK 4,199,654

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2022

Geography: Switzerland

With this project, Salomé LeibundGut-Landmann along with collaborator Giuseppe Ianiri aims to investigate the importance of aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) activation in relation to treatment of allergic skin reactions, including atopic dermatitis.

AhR is a so-called transcription factor, activated by cyclic (aromatic) compounds, which regulates cellular signaling. It is known that AhR is important for maintaining the skin barrier and a healthy cutaneous immune system and Salomé and her team propose that this, at least in part, is regulated by the release of such aromatic compounds by the commensal (non-pathogenic) and very common skin fungal class, Malassezia.

Using both human keratinocytes and mouse models, this hypothesis will be tested and the biosynthetic pathways of aromatic binding partners (ligands) for Ahr produced by Malassezia strains will be characterized.

If successful, the understanding of the interplay between commensal fungi as part of the skin microbiome and cellular maintenance of the skin barrier could provide novel approaches for treating allergic reactions and other skin inflammatory conditions, like atopic dermatitis.

Investigating the regulation of Interleukin-36 cytokine activity in the pathogenesis of generalised pustular psoriasis

Grantee: Mark Mellett, Group Leader, University Hospital Zürich

Amount: DKK 2,055,914

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2022

Geography: Switzerland

The overall aim of Mark Mellett’s project is to shed light on the differences and the mechanisms governing regulation of IL-36 activity in both skin inflammation and viral infection.

IL-36 cytokines (a substance secreted by cells that affect the response of nearby cells) are well-known to contribute to inflammatory skin diseases in particular generalised pustular psoriasis. Yet the mechanisms regulating the activitiy of the cytokines remain poorly understood.

Mark and his team suggest that IL-36 is an important response mechanism protecting the skin against viral infection and this response is “switched on” in error in generalised pustular psoriasis. They propose to elucidate the reasons for this to better understand how pustular psoriasis is triggered.

Atopic dermatitis in Sub-Saharan Africa: exploring immune phenotypes and mycobiome

Grantee: Marie-Charlotte Brüggen, Assistant Professor, University Hospital Zürich

Amount: DKK 1,886,076

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2020

Geography: Switzerland

The goal of this project is to improve the understanding of atopic dermatitis (AD) in Sub-Saharan Africa by characterizing the immune responses and potential changes in the associated skin and gut mycobiome (the composition of fungi found in a defined area) in AD patients from a dermatological clinic in Moshi, Tanzania. Subsequently, the results will be compared with equivalent data from Central European AD patients to identify similarities and differences.

As previous studies in this area is practically non-existing, this study will be a first step towards understanding the immune phenotype of Sub-Saharan Africa AD and how environmental factors like the fungi of the skin and gut could influence it. This will be important with regard to future treatment options of AD in the region.

Thermal Imaging in dermatology – Creation of the first database for artificial intelligence-based diagnostics

Grantee: Professor Alexander Navarini, Department of Dermatology and Allergy, University Hospital Basel

Amount: DKK 1,180,760

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2019

Geography: Switzerland

Thermal imaging is an investigational tool whose advantages are undisputed in engineering, i.e. for the non-destructive testing of composite materials, or in the photovoltaic industry.

The technique consists in measuring and imaging the thermal radiation and to convert this information into temperature maps, or thermograms. Medical applications of thermal imaging exhibit great potential and the field is currently experiencing a renaissance. One reason is probably the recent dramatic improvements of infrared cameras that are now affordable and compact and can even be connected to smartphones.

This project aims to produce a full body thermal imaging scanner for patients to later use as a next generation diagnostic tool, coupled with a 360° 2- and 3-dimensional digital photography device.

Our goal is to create the first open access skin thermograms database, large enough to enable artificial intelligence analysis. Such a tool could be very useful for the quantification and potentially prediction of affected areas in different skin disease such as psoriasis and eczema.