Launched in June 2008 with an investment of €18 million, UCD Charles Institute of Dermatology is the first academic institute devoted to dermatology in Ireland. The Institute’s vision is to become a world leader in dermatology research and training, which will lead to improved patient care through the discovery of new treatments and therapies.
UCD Charles Institute actively partners with leading companies serving the skin health and care market to deliver specific research and innovation objectives. Using a multidisciplinary, systems biology approach, the Institute research team are working to uncover key drivers of skin disease and ageing. This approach is leading to exciting new innovations for the management of skin ageing and treatment of serious skin disease. Read more about our research programmes>>
Every moment of every day, your skin protects you from harmful substances, parasites and disease-causing microbes. It helps you to make sense of your environment by detecting heat, cold and pressure, and without knowing it, you use it to communicate your emotions to others.
But you probably only notice your skin when something goes wrong: a wound won’t heal, a rash itches, your face reddens uncontrollably or, in rare cases, your skin fails to protect you altogether.
“The skin is an extremely important organ in the body and and fascinating area of medicine,” says Professor Martin Steinhoff, Professor of Dermatology at UCD Charles Institute of Dermatology. “But its study is so often neglected.”
The mission of the Institute is to breathe new life into dermatology research in Ireland, by linking scientific, clinical and industrial experts and putting a strong focus on education and awareness about skin health and disease.
“This is the specific and unique possibility we have,” says Professor Steinhoff. “By connecting with the University clinical departments of UCD in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and at St Vincent’s University Hospital, we can work with patient clinics and the clinical trials unit, and we obtain samples kindly provided by the patients to analyse RNA, DNA, protein and skin samples. Researchers in UCD Charles Institute can use these data and materials to fuel excellent research in order to translate lab-based findings into human studies and clinical applications.”
Professor Steinhoff has long-standing experience of working in such ‘translational’ dermatology both in the United States and in Germany, and he can see the importance of linking scientists, clinicians and patients. “Important, that you have all of those perspectives,” he says. “As a researcher, you often get good ideas if you talk to patients and clinicians then you ask the scientific question, go back to the lab and study that and look for new mechanisms and therapies. And it is rewarding to not only study the mechanisms behind a skin problem but also study the proof of principle, to go into human studies and to help develop that into a new treatment.”
Collaboration with industry, too, is another leg of the stool to ensure that discoveries in the lab can be brought through to patients, and Professor Steinhoff is a strong advocate of universities and companies working in partnership on specific projects. “I think both sides are complementary and can benefit from working together,” he says. “Industry and academia each have their own approaches and ways of looking at things, and if you combine them, you can create something novel and important for the patients.”
He sees the Institute as playing an important role for building such partnerships. “We offer a very sound scientific and clinical basis, which is attractive for companies to work with,” he says. “Only a few departments exist in the world in dermatology that can provide collaboration in basic science, proof-of-principle models and in human studies and in clinical trials in one place.”
At present, the Institute is focusing on specific areas of expertise, including inflammation and immune-mediated diseases, wound healing and skin regeneration. These areas link into a range of conditions, including diabetes, rosacea, atopic dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis and EB, but the focus will evolve with research and patient needs, explains Professor Steinhoff.
“These are the diseases we are currently focused on but of course this is a flexible system,” he says. “Other aspects will arise in in the future and the goal will always be to recruit excellent researchers into the Institute who bring with them expertise in different areas.”
Professor Steinhoff is also passionate about increasing awareness about dermatology among students of medicine and science. “Education underpins the entire vision of the Charles Institute and our vision is to provide the basis for medical school students but also in other fields such as biology, chemistry, molecular biology,” he says. “We want more awareness of dermatology as an important part of medicine and medical research, and more awareness about skin among clinicians in general, because many of their patients will present with skin-related symptoms.”
Awareness among patients and the general public is also key, he notes, and the Institute has already hosted numerous fora to improve engagement between researchers and the people who could benefit from the findings.
Ultimately, Professor Steinhoff sees the UCD Charles Institute having an impact by translating discoveries to the clinic. “We are doing this by creating a centre of excellence in the fields of skin inflammation, auto-immunity, cancer and by linking with clinicians, developing new technologies and a skin biobank and collaborating with industry,” he says. “The long-term vision is to establish ourselves as world-leader in experimental and translational dermatology research where students, researchers, clinicians and patients all benefit.”