Unveiling Novel Molecular Mechanisms Underpinning Chronic Pruritus and Developing Innovative Antipruritics

Grantee: Jianghui Meng, Assistant Professor, Dublin City University

Amount: DKK 2,200,000

Grant category: Research Grants in open competition

Year: 2022

Geography: Ireland

Chronic itch (pruritus) is a major symptom of numerous dermatological and systemic diseases, which substantially impairs patients’ quality of life, resulting in considerable socioeconomic costs. Current treatment options have insufficient efficacy or side effects, and do not treat the underlying cause of itch. Thus, there is a significant unmet medical need for a better efficacy, longer lasting and safer therapy.

Specifically, Jianghui and her team will focus on understanding the role of b-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) signaling, which is known to be pivotal in the development and transmission of itch, yet no effective therapeutics targeting this molecule have so far been developed. To address this knowledge gap, the team will investigate the pathways in detail, validate the involved molecules as potential targets for anti-itch drugs and develop therapeutic candidates that can interrupt several key molecular events of BNP signaling, including release of BNP and its pruritogenic effect.

Full thickness skin models from human pluripotent stem cells for identification and testing effectiveness of personalised therapies in atopic dermatitis

Grantee: Dr Dusko Ilic, MD, PhD, Reader in Stem Cell Sciences, Kings College London, Dr Reiko Tanaka, Lecturer, Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College, London, Dr Patrick Harrison, Senior Lecturer, Department of Physiology, University College Cork, Ireland, and Professor Theodora Mauro, MD, Professor of Dermatology, San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, USA

Amount: DKK 9,980,000

Grant category: Research Grants in open competition

Year: 2016

Geography: Ireland, United Kingdom, USA

This is an exciting project that, with the international group’s extensive research and know-how in mind, has the potential to create an intriguing base for novel personalised treatments for atopic dermatitis (AD). The project moreover holds an innovation potential that may make it stand out in the emerging global bio-economy.

The prevalence of AD, an inflammatory skin disease resulting in itchy, red, swollen and cracked skin, is constantly increasing. Today, it affects 15-30 percent children and 2-10 percent adults worldwide, presenting a significant economic burden to healthcare systems.

There is no cure for AD, only soothing of the symptoms. In the majority of AD patients, the disease is a consequence of a blend of genetic defects of the skin barrier defects and abnormal immune responses influenced by environmental factors.

Until now, the models used to assess the interplay are not particularly predictive. The group behind this project aims to change this by using the latest advances in stem cell science, gene editing and tissue engineering to develop and validate innovative 3D in vitro models of skin – making the models similar to skin in AD patients by emulating full thickness skin of varying barrier integrity; faulty, partially repaired or intact, and immune response composition.

As part of the project, the group will also develop mathematical computer models to accurately address the predictive, prognostic and therapeutic outcome of personalised AD therapy – in order to address co-dependence of the quantitative and qualitative changes in skin barrier and activation of immune cells.

The 3D models will also be made available to test various novel therapeutic approaches for AD treatment in a patient specific manner.