Dermatology Basic & Translational Research | NYU Langone Health

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Department of Dermatology Research—Cutaneous Biology Program Dermatology Basic & Translational Research

Dermatology Basic & Translational Research

Areas of basic and translational research at NYU Langone’s Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology currently include the following:

  • melanoma and melanocyte biology
  • epithelial biology, stem cells, and nonmelanoma skin cancers
  • immunology and inflammation

Melanoma and Melanocyte Biology

Our researchers and clinicians study all aspects of the melanoma disease process, from clinical and genetic factors that predispose people to the formation of this potentially fatal malignancy; to the early recognition and diagnosis of melanomas using advanced skin imaging modalities; to how melanomas grow and spread from their primary site in the skin; to developing new means of detecting and treating advanced melanomas based on a deeper understanding of their biology.

Melanocyte stem cells hold the potential to be novel means of regenerating melanocytes lost to disease or aging. Our investigators have made major contributions to the field, with publications in Cell, Nature, and Nature Medicine. Departmental researchers are also studying normal melanocytes to better understand the genetic and biochemical factors that control skin pigmentation. In addition to learning more about the basic biology of melanocytes, these studies have translational research aims, such as finding new treatments for clinical disorders of pigmentation. Vitiligo is one such area of focus, as our investigators examine the earliest steps in melanocyte death and how they might trigger autoimmune disease.

NYU Langone has consistently been recognized as one of the foremost centers for melanoma care and research. Since its inception, the Interdisciplinary Melanoma Cooperative Group (IMCG) at Perlmutter Cancer Center has been a collaborative effort with the department’s faculty, including several of our physician–scientists and investigators, and offers a weekly research seminar series. The IMCG also maintains one of the largest clinicopathologic resources, accruing biospecimens and a corresponding long-term clinical follow-up databank.

The progress to date is evident: IMCG collaborations have resulted in more than 400 publications, and the group has been recognized by the National Cancer Institute through the award of a multimillion dollar Melanoma Specialized Programs of Research Excellence Grant (SPORE, grant CA016087). The active collaborations and prolific efforts of our researchers continue to unite them as the front line in the fight against melanoma. Learn more about the Melanoma Research Program and the Melanoma SPORE grant at Perlmutter Cancer Center.

Epithelial Biology, Stem Cells, and Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers

From the stem cells that supply the skin, hair follicles, and nails with a renewable source of cells to the signals that inform skin how to develop, researchers are delving into many basic scientific questions concerning the largest organ in the body. Our department is actively investigating questions that relate not only to normal skin development but also to the regeneration of skin and limbs in wound healing.

Department faculty members have advanced our understanding of nonmelanoma skin cancers, such as basal and squamous cell carcinomas. As with the clinical–pathologic database for melanoma, our faculty have established a nonmelanoma database that is used in the identification of cancer stem cells in human cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas; understanding their mechanisms of self-renewal, differentiation, and long-term tumor growth; and developing cancer stem cell–specific therapies that target squamous cell carcinomas at their roots.

Our researchers also explore pharmacologic strategies for the prevention of nonmelanoma skin cancers. The fact that the annual numbers of nonmelanoma skin cancers, cutaneous lymphomas, and other skin malignancies far exceed the total of all other cancers in the United States combined strongly reinforces the need for further research into the causes and mechanisms of these cancers.

Immunology and Inflammation

Immunology research in our department spans both laboratory and clinical studies. New biologic agents for use in treating autoimmune skin diseases such as psoriasis and cutaneous lupus are in active clinical trials, along with correlating wet lab projects through our collaborations with the Division of Rheumatology in the Department of Medicine. These new therapies are designed to specifically inhibit the cells and proteins of the immune response that are key in the disease process without causing global immune suppression.

Our investigators are also studying autoimmune diseases, including collagen vascular diseases such as lupus and dermatomyositis, and the interactions of the human host with microbes such as the leprosy (Hansen’s disease) mycobacterium and the interplay between psoriasis and the skin microbiome. Vitiligo is another autoimmune disease actively being studied in the department. Our researchers are also involved in boosting the immune response against melanoma. In addition, new blood-based markers are under investigation as a means of measuring patients’ responses to melanoma therapies and improving the early detection of recurrent disease.