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.

Adherens Junction Dysfunction in Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Grantee: Amanda Nelson, Assistant Professor, The Pennsylvania State University

Amount: DKK 3,996,947

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2022

Geography: USA

Amanda Nelson’s project investigates the role of two proteins, E-cadherin and p120, in the relatively common inflammatory skin disease Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS), which is characterized by skin lesions that cause intense pain, odor, drainage and scarring.

The cause of HS remains unclear, and this limits the current treatment options. The current hypothesis is that there is a blockage in the hair follicle unit, which triggers the immune response. Amanda and her team have found that E-cadherin and p120, both important for skin integrity, are lost in HS-affected skin, and their project seeks to understand how this loss may contribute to the hair follicle breakdown and subsequent inflammation. If the link is proven it may provide novel approaches for treatment of HS.

Towards a Cure of Genodermatoses: Intraepidermal Delivery of Gene Editing Tools Leveraging Smart Delivery Systems

Grantee: Sarah Hedtrich, Associate Professor, Charité Hospital Berlin

Amount: DKK 4,183,544

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2022

Geography: Germany

Sarah Hedtrich, who is also Associate Professor at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences of the University of British Columbia, leads this project focusing on developing novel ways to treat genetic skin diseases through intra-skin delivery methods.

Skin diseases caused by specific genetic defects (genodermatoses) are often rare but can be severe and even life threatening – like epidermolysis bullosa. To cure such diseases, the genetic errors which cause the diseases would need to be corrected. In recent years there have been major advances in targeted gene editing – not least with the CRISPR/Cas system which allows for both tissue- and cell-specific correction.

However, while the skin is readily accessible it has two features which impede such treatment: Firstly, the skin’s barrier function makes efficient delivery difficult, and secondly, as the skin is an epithelium with rapid turnover of the cells, a persistent cure involving gene editing must reach the stem cells which lie at the base of the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin.

Sarah and her team, with expertise in both dermatology, gene editing and topical drug delivery, aim to develop such a delivery system for gene correction treatments using microneedles and nanocapsules, and will investigate its efficiency in both human skin samples and bioengineered skin (disease) models.

Chemical compounds that impede the pathogenic effects of Staphylococcus aureus in atopic dermatitis

Grantee: Tim Tolker-Nielsen, Professor, University of Copenhagen

Amount: DKK 3,236,161

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2022

Geography: Denmark

The project by Tim Tolker-Nielsen aims to identify novel chemical compounds as potential drug leads for treating bacterial involvement in atopic dermatitis. The present project builds on findings from another LEO Foundation grant, which discovered a central factor, Sbi, responsible for the virulence (the ability to cause disease) of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus in atopic dermatitis flares. As this factor appears to be unique to that bacterium it can be targeted with minimal impact expected on beneficial commensal (i.e. non-pathogenic) bacteria. Tim and his team will utilize existing libraries of chemical compounds to screen for lead candidates that can prevent the production of Sbi and which may be developed into a future treatment for atopic dermatitis flares.

The LEO Foundation Award 2022 – Region Americas

Grantee: Dr. Shadmehr Demehri, Associate Professor, Massachusetts General Hospital

Amount: USD 100,000

Grant category: LEO Foundation Awards

Year: 2022

Geography: USA

Dr. Shawn Demehri is Associate Professor at the Department of Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, USA.

He receives the award for his more than noteworthy contributions to the dermatology field, his truly exciting trajectory within skin research as well as his clinical skills. Dr. Demehri is a brilliant and exceptionally talented physician-scientist who leads a creative and accomplished research team studying the intersection between the immune system and early cancer.

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SID Resident and Post Doc Retreat

Grantee: Society for Investigative Dermatology

Amount: EUR 15,000

Grant category: Education and awareness grants

Year: 2022

Geography: USA

The SID mission is to advance the sciences relevant to skin disease through education, advocacy and scholarly exchange of scientific information.

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Unge Forskere (Young Scientists) 2022

Grantee: Mikkel Bohm, Astra

Amount: DKK 2,000,000

Grant category: Education and awareness grants

Year: 2021

Geography: Denmark

Unge Forskere is the largest talent competition in Denmark within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Target group is students in primary school and high school.

Unge Forskere contributes to both talent development through participation in the competition and strengthens the work with innovation, idea development and the natural science method in daily teaching. Furthermore, it strengthens the natural science identity and the general science education among children and young people in Denmark.

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Bloom Festival 2022

Grantee: Svante Lindeburg, Golden Days

Amount: DKK 500,000

Grant category: Education and awareness grants

Year: 2021

Geography: Denmark

Bloom is an innovative festival about science and nature, which enlighten us on the universe, the World, and ourselves.

It takes place in the lush Søndermarken in the heart of Copenhagen, Denmark, where some of the World’s greatest scientists, poets and philosophers have found inspiration through history.

In recent years, Bloom has extended to become a year-round platform for science communication, which includes, e.g., the digital magazine Bloom Explore with videos, podcasts and essays, Summer Bloom at Geopark Odsherred, Bloom School targeted at 7th – 9th grade students, and a coming book series from Gyldendal.

By uniting the best from the worlds of festivals and science, Bloom aims to take on Life’s greatest questions through debates, talks, laboratories, conversations, and nature walks.

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Big Bang 2022 – Denmark’s largest natural science conference

Grantee: Mikkel Bohm, Astra

Amount: DKK 1,000,000

Grant category: Education and awareness grants

Year: 2021

Geography: Denmark

Big Bang is Denmark’s largest conference for teachers, teacher students, didactics, and researchers involved in natural science education. The purpose of Big Bang is to strengthen participants’ network, cooperation, and knowledge sharing.

The conference is held annually and gathers more than 1,000 people for two inspiring days with relevant keynote speakers, a humming exhibition atmosphere, interactive workshops, and novel ideas for the continued renewal and improvement of the Danish natural science education.

As good teachers are essential in developing children’s interest, knowledge, and skills within the natural sciences, Big Bang may in the long run incite more youngsters to choose an education and career within this important field.

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The LEO Foundation Award 2021 – Region Asia-Pacific

Grantee: Dr. Satoshi Nakamizo, Assistant Professor, Kyoto University

Amount: USD 100,000

Grant category: LEO Foundation Awards

Year: 2021

Geography: Japan

Dr. Satoshi Nakamizo is Assistant Professor at Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine, Japan.

He receives the award for his excellent dermatological research, focused on the roles of antigen-presenting cells in chronic inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis.

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