Professor David Gawkrodger talks about the impact of British Skin Foundation-funded research.

The British Skin Foundation funds research into all types of skin disease, including skin cancer. Professor of Dermatology and British Skin Foundation trustee, David Gawkrodger discusses some of the recent studies we have funded and the impact or potential impact they will have on skin health.

Are patients with psoriasis predisposed to heart disease and stroke, obesity and depression?

Psoriasis is now recognised as being associated with some internal health disorders as well as causing distressing skin problems. To look into this further, the British Skin Foundation has funded ground-breaking research at St John’s Institute of Dermatology at Guy’s Hospital, London. The department led by Professor Catherine Smith, will research the possibility of finding the genes in patients with psoriasis that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and depression. The findings may help identify psoriasis patients at risk of these associated diseases, with the benefit of making early preventative treatments available to them.

Mental health problems in eczema and psoriasis.

Eczema and psoriasis, along with other skin diseases, are especially distressing to the patient and can result in severe mental health problems, even self-harming and social isolation. The British Skin Foundation knows that there is a significant need for better recognition of this problem and for improved access of patients afflicted with these issues to medical help. To address this, a grant has been given to a team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Discovering the reasons why patients develop mental health difficulties will improve identification of these issues at an early stage, when treatment might stop the development of serious mental problems.

Better diagnosis of severe allergic reactions to medication.

Severe reactions to some essential oral medications such as drugs to control epilepsy can cause severe and even life-threatening allergic reactions with unpleasant skin rashes. In order to allow earlier and more accurate identification of medications causing these allergies, and hence spare patients from possibly life-threatening reactions, researchers at the University of Southampton, led by Drs Ardern-Jones and Polak, have been supported by the British Skin Foundation to develop new ways of finding out early and reliably if a patient has such an allergy by using a number of different tests. At the University of Liverpool, another set of workers led by Drs Yip and Olsson-Brown have been funded to identify a blood protein that might be an early maker for severe skin-related medicament allergy.

Lichen sclerosus and urinary incontinence.

Lichen sclerosus is an itchy rash that affects the genital skin more commonly, in both women and men. Urinary incontinence is a common problem as people get older and has been linked to lichen sclerosus (LS) in men. The British Skin Foundation is supporting investigators led by Dr Kirby at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow to find out whether there is a link in women between urinary incontinence and LS. Finding such an association would be a first step in preventing a distressing condition.

Finding out why skin cancers spread.

Skin cancers of various kinds are increasing all over the world as a result of greater sun exposure and people living longer. They are an increasing problem in the dermatology clinic and if not caught early can prove to be fatal. Investigators at the University of Bath, in the department headed by Professor Kelsh, have been tasked by British Skin Foundation with looking inside the cells of skin cancers to find out if there are changes in the proteins of the cells that make the cancerous cells spread from the skin around the body. Recognition of how and why cells change in this way would help in the fight to stop skin cancers spreading beyond the skin.

Prevention of skin cancers using better sunscreens.

To be effective, sunscreens may need to be applied several times a day in bright and strong sunlight and to be put on quite thickly. Dr Eggleston at the University of Bath has been supported by the British Skin Foundation, to look at ways of preventing ultraviolet A rays in sunlight from damaging the skin and causing skin cancers. He has identified a new set of chemicals that have advantages over the presently available sunscreens. This would offer better protection against sunburn that can lead to potentially deadly skin cancers.

The role of bacteria in leg ulcers.

The treatment of leg ulcers is a major financial burden for the NHS in terms of nurses time and the use of bandaging, to say nothing of the suffering caused to patients whose mobility and life are disrupted. The use of compression bandages was a major break-through about two decades ago but there has been little advance since then. Recently there has been interest in the way that ‘biofilms’ of bacteria growing in a long standing leg ulcer can prevent healing. Professor Stevens at Cardiff University is supported by the British Skin Foundation to try to unlock the potential of tiny particles known as ‘exosomes’ naturally produced by stem cells, that can deal with bacterial biofilms. If this proves successful, it will be a further step making leg ulcers heal quicker and getting people back on their feet again.

Professor David Gawkrodger

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From the dermatology community

“The British Skin Foundation has played a vital role in funding essential preliminary work that has then progressed to become major national projects. The STOPGAP and PATCH pilot studies are examples of work funded by the BSF which became national studies led by the UK Dermatology Clinical Trials Network, funded by the NIHR.”

Professor Hywel Williams, NIHR Senior Investigator and Chair of the UK Dermatology Clinical Trials Network

“The British Skin Foundation serves an invaluable role in funding proof of concept studies to enable application for substantial research council grants and in supporting early career researchers.”

Professor Chris Griffiths, University of Manchester

“The BSF has contributed to both the training of next generation non clinical and clinical academics, and breakthroughs in our development of novel and urgently required biomarkers for melanoma as well as novel treatment regimes.”

Penny Lovat, Professor of Cellular Dermatology & Oncology, Newcastle University

Help fund more BSF research    Male lichen sclerosus research

Melanoma research    Eczema research