Ushering in the next generation of researchers

| Joe Doolen

This past October, some of the brightest young minds in psoriatic disease research met with leading experts in the field in Portland, Oregon, at the second annual National Psoriasis Foundation Research Trainee Symposium.

The Symposium began last year as a way to jump-start the careers of the next generation of clinicians and scientists pursuing psoriatic disease research. Over the two-day event, recent graduates had an opportunity to share their work, network with peers and get indispensable guidance from leading researchers. Established researchers, including one representative from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, served as guest faculty for the symposium. Most of the “trainees” at the event received an Early Career Research Grant or Fellowship, while others came from labs working on NPF-funded projects.

NPF awarded our first Early Career Research Grants in 2016 to support graduate students and postdoctoral researchers training to independently conduct psoriatic disease research. The goal is to prepare recipients to compete for larger grants in the future, and to position themselves for successful long-term careers.

Cory Simpson, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Pennsylvania, knows firsthand that starting a long and productive research career can be tough. “Support from NPF makes a huge difference at this formative stage in my career. If an early-stage investigator fails to get his or her own funding, that can quickly derail an academic research career, which relies heavily on outside support from agencies like NPF,” said Simpson. He was one of six who received an Early Career Research Grant this year, totaling nearly $300,000.

NPF awarded $2.49 million in research grants and fellowships this year, bringing the total investment to more than $17 million since 1987. Some of this year’s NPF-funded projects include:

  • Profiling of molecules in guttate psoriasis and new psoriatic flares
  • Studying the poorly understood genetic mechanism of an effective form of coal tar treatment
  • Investigating comorbidities (concurrent chronic diseases) of the eye
  • Determining the risk of hospitalization for pneumonia in psoriasis patients

At the poster session, attendees heard from other NPF-funded scientists about their psoriatic disease research.

In the area of basic science, or research aimed at understanding fundamental problems underlying disease, Simpson is getting at the root of some big challenges. He explained that many psoriasis treatments carry unwanted risks, such as immune system suppression, or create a burden for patients, such as light therapy that calls for three sessions a week.

“By identifying the pathways and proteins involved in keratinocyte (skin cell) maturation, we can test whether these are impaired in psoriasis. This could lead to the identification of novel targets for the development of new medications,” Simpson said.

Juul van den Reek, M.D., Ph.D., was not the only researcher from another country, but she traveled the farthest distance from her laboratory at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands. She uses patient-oriented data, in this case called targeted proteomics data, to determine patient physiological response to biologic treatment. One of the goals of her research is to eliminate the practice of trial and error commonly found in treating psoriatic disease.

Dr. Juul van den Reek, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands

“We aim to find predictors in the blood, such as proteins or genes, that can predict whether the patient is better off with biologic A than B, for instance,” said van den Reek, a recipient of an NPF Fellowship. “This information should be used to identify which treatment would be the best option for that patient. This could lead to earlier and better disease control, and less waste of time and money.”

Other poster presentations mapped how researchers use patient data to understand the impact of psoriasis treatment on a patient’s income, the elevated risk of diabetes in psoriasis patients and overall quality of life indicators.

Career development was another focus of the Symposium. Faculty led seminars on getting involved with advocacy and communicating one’s own research – topics especially important for NPF’s patient-centered approach. Other breakout sessions covered themes such as applying for funding, writing grants, and using various techniques for scientific modeling.

The Symposium is one of the many ways in which NPF connects patients with researchers and health care providers, an experience that ultimately helps shape perspectives. “Helping the researchers better understand [patients] was a great experience,” said Chris Pettit, who sat on the patient panel. He used to think psoriasis was not getting much attention from the research community, he said, but he realized that’s not the case anymore.

The Research Trainee Symposium will return to Portland, Oregon, in October 2018 with continued support from the Karen and Dale White Research Center of Excellence. The Center of Excellence was founded thanks to a fundraising campaign that garnered $2.2 million during our 50th year.

Fellowship and grant applications are currently being accepted. The deadline to apply is January 19, 2018, with the exception of the Bridge Grant, for which applications are accepted year-round.


Driving discovery, creating community

For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.

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