Finding enjoyment in the complexity of psoriasis research

| Chris Paoli

Who are the scientists receiving our grants? What inspires their research into psoriatic disease? In this series we profile some of the researchers who are leading the charge to find new treatments and, we hope, milestones to a cure. 

2018 NPF Early Career Research Grant recipient Holly Anderton, has been familiar with psoriasis and the effects it can have on the individual and loved ones at an early age. Both Anderton’s parents have lived with psoriasis, and she is just now showing early symptoms. But, for the Victoria, Australia-based researcher, it’s her love of the study of cells and the skin that drew her to the field. 

Check out our Q&A with the up-and-coming researcher, as she discusses her career, motivation from an unlikely source and the potential impact of her research. 

Chris Paoli: When did you know you wanted to become a scientist?
Holly Anderton: In high school, probably around age 14 or 15. I was taking every math and science subject I could at the time. I wanted to be an astronaut. 

CP: Did you have a mentor or a favorite teacher? How did he or she influence you?
HA: My favorite teacher was actually my music teacher. Music was the only non-STEM subject I was taking. My teacher was incredibly supportive of all her students, most of whom were science- and math-focused. We often took a very analytical approach to music, looking at the mathematical concepts involved. What was interesting was that this didn’t lead to a music-by-number approach for me but rather changed the way I saw math. I could see the art, the beauty there, and it helped me approach the subjects intuitively rather than rigidly. 

CP: What led you to psoriatic disease research?
HA: I was working in a lab with a focus on cell signaling and cell death, which we were mostly studying in the context of cancer research. When a project arose involving a mutation that caused a chronic skin condition reminiscent of psoriasis, I jumped on board. I have always found the skin to be an incredibly interesting and complex organ and, though I had not intended to enter the field in particular, personal experience drew me in.  

Both my parents had psoriasis. My dad’s was very severe while I was growing up, so I always had an awareness of the disease and I have, unsurprisingly, began to develop symptoms. I wouldn’t say I’m trying to find a cure for myself or my family – curiosity drives me more than anything. However, I think it is natural to be more curious about the things that you relate to.

CP: What do you enjoy the most about studying psoriatic disease?
HA: The complexity. The physiochemical environment in which the skin exists is so complex and variable. It can make it difficult to study. However, that is also what fascinates me. There is a delicate balance between tolerance and response which the skin must find in order to maintain homeostasis. I’m interested in finding out how that balance is maintained and how it is disrupted. 

CP: How does your work impact those living with psoriatic disease?
HA: Most current treatments for psoriasis treat symptoms. However, I am interested in understanding causes. The difference to me is like taking a painkiller for a headache versus figuring out why you have a headache and treating that. The painkiller can control the symptoms but will not solve the problem. 

If we can understand what is happening that leads to psoriatic disease then we can intervene to prevent the problems, potentially before the need to treat symptoms even arises. This aspect is particularly interesting, as I spent 20 years waiting for my own symptoms to arise. Many people with a family history of psoriasis are in the same boat. 

CP: How do you unwind at the end of the day?
HA: I enjoy reading, gaming and painting. I also do karate when I need to get moving.

How you can help
Support promising research that paves the way for better treatments, a better quality of life and a cure.

Other stories in our researcher series: 

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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