Understanding the importance of cIAPs as NF-κB molecular switches in psoriasis

Grantee: Vasileios Bekiaris, Associate Professor, Technical University of Denmark

Amount: DKK 2,815,499

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2020

Geography: Denmark

Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease characterized by overproduction of tissue-damaging cytokines by immune cells and keratinocytes. Central cytokines in psoriasis are TNF (tumor necrosis factor) and IL-17 (interleukin 17), which are currently approved therapeutic drug targets. To improve current therapies targeted towards TNF and IL-17, it is important to better understand the biology of the two cytokines in relation to psoriasis.  

The goal of this project is to confirm that two enzymes known as cIAPs (cellular inhibitors of apoptosis proteins) play a central role in psoriasis.  

The two cIAPs are believed to modulate the response of the immune system and of keratinocytes to TNF in order to fine-tune IL-17 production. The project will investigate whether lack of the two cIAPs or their pharmacologic inhibition makes the immune response less pathogenic and reduces the pro-inflammatory nature of keratinocytes during psoriasis.  

Systemic effects of atopic dermatitis: Dysregulated immune responses to the intestinal microbiota

Grantee: Jeppe Madura Larsen, Senior Researcher, Technical University of Denmark

Amount: DKK 4,349,062

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2020

Geography: Denmark

Atopic Dermatitis (AD) is a common inflammatory skin disease affecting 15% of children and 3-5% of adults. AD is associated with the risk for developing co-morbidities such as other atopic diseases (food allergy, asthma, and rhinitis) and infections. Co-morbidities are believed to occur because of functional changes in the immune system of AD patients, however, it remains unknown how these changes are established. Emerging experimental studies suggest the existence of a skin-gut immune axis, but the role for the gut remains largely unexplored in AD.

The goal of this project is to determine if AD changes the bacterial microbiota composition and function in the gut, alters the intestinal and systemic immune system, and increases the risk for food allergy co-morbidity via oral sensitization. The project hypothesizes that AD drives dysregulated immune responses to the gut microbiota, which in turn changes the immune system giving rise to atopic co-morbidities and risk for infections. In other words, it is envisaged that AD patients become “allergic” to the bacteria present in their intestine – leading to a “persistent allergic reaction” due to continuous presence of bacteria in the intestine.

The project will use a rat model of AD to investigate the hypothesis and perform a human case-control study to support the clinical relevance of the findings. Identification of bacterial drivers of persistent type-2 inflammation could open new avenues for the prevention and treatment of AD and related co-morbidities.

Granzyme B: A novel therapeutic target in cutaneous leishmaniasis

Grantee: David Granville, Professor, University of British Columbia

Amount: DKK 2,023,506

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2020

Geography: Canada

Cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) is a designated ‘WHO top-neglected tropical disease’, with up to 1 million new cases worldwide annually. CL is an inflammatory skin disease caused by infection with Leishmania parasites that leads to tissue damage, ulcers, and severe scarring, despite current treatment options.

The goal of this project is to provide a key rationale for pursuing Granzyme B (GzmB) as a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of cutaneous leishmaniasis. 

GzmB is a protein that is aberrantly elevated in CL lesions and other inflammatory skin conditions. GzmB activity has been demonstrated to cleave important proteins in the skin, thereby worsening tissue damage, delaying wound healing, and causing scarring in inflammatory patient skin specimens and in experimental models. Importantly, inhibition of GzmB has shown efficacy in delaying these disease phenotypes.  

Using lesional specimens from CL patients, a well-established experimental model, and a GzmB inhibitor, the contributions of GzmB to inflammation, impaired wound healing, and scarring in CL will be delineated in this study. 

Investigation of genetic variation and development of genetically defined cell models for Acne vulgaris therapeutic and cosmetic products evaluation

Grantee: George Church, Professor at Harvard Medical School, Harvard University and MIT, Cambridge, MA

Amount: DKK 3,926,475

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2020

Geography: USA

Summary available soon.

Deciphering the functional role of circular RNAs in psoriasis

Grantee: Lasse Sommer Kristensen, Associate Professor, Department of Biomedicine, Aarhus University

Amount: DKK 2,467,477

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2020

Geography: Denmark

This project aims to answer key questions related to a recently discovered new class of biomolecules, called circular RNAs. These RNA molecules appear to have an important role in early immune responses and the project aims to functionally characterize them in psoriasis patients and compare the results with data from healthy controls.

To study the RNA molecules, the project uses a combination of traditional molecular biology approaches and high-throughput technologies such as RNA-sequencing and NanoString technology.

In summary, this project aims to shed light on the distribution and functional relevance of circular RNAs within psoriatic plagues as well as in normal skin and potentially open new avenues for better treatment and management of psoriasis.

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.

Molecular investigation of CCL5-hi chronic adult rashes (CCARs)

Grantee: Raymond Cho, Associate Professor, Dermatology, School of Medicine, University of California San Francisco, CA

Amount: DKK 3,330,056

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2020

Geography: USA

This project aims to characterize a newly identified type of persistent rashes which resemble both eczema and psoriasis, but which differ at the molecular level.

Initial single-cell genetic screening of relevant immune cells from the rashes has identified a strong overlap in their genetic profile – especially in the expression of two specific cytokines, CCL5 and IL32 – cytokines are substances that are secreted by certain cells of the immune system and have an effect on other cells. At the same time, the classical markers of both atopic dermatitis and psoriasis are absent, suggesting that these rashes indeed may represent a novel condition.

The project aims to further identify and substantiate the genetic profiling by studying a larger patient population and link this to dupilumab treatment outcomes in order to stratify and optimize the treatment options available for this patient population.

Protein aggregation in host defense and skin inflammation

Grantee: Artur Schmidtchen, Professor, Dermatology and Venereology, Department of Clinical Sciences, Lund University

Amount: DKK 2,100,000

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2020

Geography: Sweden

The primary goal of this project is to identify and characterize the ‘aggregatome’, which describes the complete and complex network of proteins that are involved in the specific mechanism where the body – via its immune system – protects itself e.g. from bacteria. Subsequently, the project will explore and define the roles of the ‘aggregatome’ in inflammatory skin diseases.

The ultimate goal is to obtain new and deeper understanding of diseases affected by protein aggregation and potentially identify biomarkers of diagnostic significance.

In vivo gene editing for genodermatoses

Grantee: Thomas Kocher, Postdoc, EB House Austria, Salzburg

Amount: DKK 1,389,845

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2020

Geography: Austria

The goal of this project is to evaluate the translational and therapeutic potential of two in vivo CRISPR/Cas9 delivery methods. CRISPR/Cas9 is a gene-editing technology that enables researchers to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering sections of a specific DNA sequence. Although CRISPR/Cas-based technologies hold great promise as genome editing tools in many genetic diseases, its clinical application, especially in genodermatoses, remains a big challenge.

To challenge this hurdle, CRISPR/Cas9 molecules will be delivered into the skin of a suitable animal model via two application methods: laser microporation and gene gun bombardment. The first method uses a laser to make micropores into the skin to allow the CRISPR/Cas9 constructs to enter the outer skin barrier and subsequently the target skin cells. The second method uses a “gene gun”, where gold particles covered with CRISPR/Cas9 constructs are shot directly into the skin/cells.

These constructs can then restore genetic defects in e.g. epidermolysis bullosa (EB) – a genetic condition that results in easy blistering of the skin and mucous membranes – which is used in this project as a model, and potentially cure the disease.

The project will investigate the potential of these two delivery methods in a mouse model using grafted human skin equivalents from expanded recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB) patient-derived fibroblasts and keratinocytes. If either delivery method proves efficient, it may hold the potential for development of future treatments, or even cure, of genetic skin diseases.

Identification and biological basis of immunomodulation of skin inflammation by S. epidermidis

Grantee: Peter Arkwright, Senior Lecturer, The University of Manchester

Amount: DKK 4,369,423

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2020

Geography: United Kingdom

The ultimate goal of this project is to contribute to the development of new medicines to treat bacterially induced eczema.

The project is a continuation of previous work supported by the LEO Foundation on the impact of bacterial infection, specifically caused by Staphylococcus Aureus (S. Aureus), on eczema. Here, a single factor secreted by S. Aureus was identified as the primary causative agent for eczema development or flare-up. Furthermore, it was also found that the naturally occurring variant, S. Epidermidis, has an inhibitory effect on eczema-induction.

The objective of the present project is to further elaborate on the disease-preventing effect of S. Epidermidis. First, the team will identify any factor(s) secreted by S. Epidermidis that inhibits eczema and then confirm its role by knocking out any relevant gene(s). Finally, the effect of any identified factor(s) on S. Aureus-induced eczema will be studied.