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Foundation-sponsored research: Making strides

Each year, the National Psoriasis Foundation awards discovery grants of up to $50,000 each to research projects that have great potential to advance treatments and, ultimately, lead to a cure. Here is an update of two of those projects, which were published recently in prestigious dermatology journals.

Trim32 protein may trigger psoriasis

Psoriasis is considered to be an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system somehow mistakenly attacks the body rather than foreign "invaders," such as germs and viruses. In someone who has psoriasis, the immune system "misfires," causing inflammation and speeding up the growth cycle of skin cells

Yuangang Liu, Ph.D.Psoriasis researcher Yuangang Liu, Ph.D., of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland is focusing his research on certain proteins in the skin that could trigger psoriasis. Liu, a research assistant professor in the university's dermatology department, discovered that a skin protein called Trim32 is excessively produced in psoriatic skin.

Trim32 stimulates the production of another protein called CCL20, which attracts immune cells to psoriatic skin and worsens the disease's symptoms. Liu is trying to determine whether Trim32's control of the levels of CCL20 in the skin creates a cycle that maintains the disease.

These findings, Liu says, have given him a basis for defining both the role of CCL20 in skin inflammation and how it is regulated by Trim32. Discovering the roles these proteins play in inflammation may help develop topical psoriasis treatments that directly target skin cells rather than involve the entire immune system.

The results of Liu's research were published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology's May 2010 issue. A grant from the National Psoriasis Foundation,Liu says, provided him with the funding to conduct the study and to appreciate the impact of his research through interactions with people affected by psoriasis.

Studying cell regulators for clues

Eniko Sonkoly, M.D., Ph.D.Dr. Enikö Sonkoly, together with Dr. Andor Pivarcsi and their investigative team at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, are studying how microRNAs—a newly discovered class of small RNA molecules that regulate how genes behave—contribute to the development of psoriasis. The role of microRNAs in psoriasis remains largely unexplored, Dr. Sonkoly says.

Sonkoly and her colleagues have found that the levels of microRNAs in psoriasis skin are different from levels found in healthy skin, suggesting that microRNAs may be involved in the development of the disease.

The scientists focused their research on two particular microRNAs, called miR-203 and miR-125b. They believe that restoring miR-203 and/or miR-125b to normal levels may improve psoriasis. The aim of their research is to investigate whether and how microRNA levels in psoriasis can be restored.

As their research progresses, Sonkoly and her team plan to include other microRNAs that appear in abnormal levels in psoriasis skin. Controlling the levels of microRNA in the skin could one day become a new treatment option, Sonkoly says. The researchers' reports of their work on microRNAs appeared in the September 2010 issues of Experimental Dermatology and Journal of Investigative Dermatology. A grant from the National Psoriasis Foundation, Sonkoly says, represented "significant input into my research budget and provided invaluable help to perform those critical experiments that were needed to get answers to our questions regarding microRNAs."

National Psoriasis Foundation Our Mission: To drive efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected.