Key messages from the IMHA SkIN Canada webinar

Photo (L to R) Drs. An-Wen Chan, Lucie Germain and Jan Dutz

On December 1, 2020, IMHA launched our new Webinar Network Series. This session focused on cutting-edge research by the Skin Investigators Network of Canada (SkIN Canada), showcasing advancements in wound healing, inflammatory skin conditions and skin cancer. Each of our expert guest speakers, Drs. Lucie Germain, Jan Dutz and An-Wen Chan, also included tips for trainees.

Dr. Lucie Germain, Professor of Medicine, Université Laval and Canada Research Chair in Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, discussed new, practical advances in wound healing and tissue regeneration. The latest progress in tissue engineering revolves around the reconstruction of tissues using stem cells. More complete skin reconstruction is now possible - including both dermal and epidermal scaffolding. A small tissue biopsy is taken from each patient and sent to the lab to regenerate personalized skin grafts, created for each individual patient. The rejection potential for skin grafts is virtually eliminated and this is especially important in severe burn patients who have wounds over more than 50% of their body. The dermal/epidermal bi-layer reconstruction is key. By including the dermal layer, elasticity and is increased while the incidence of scarring is decreased. The graft is also less fragile, increasing the ease of transportation without damage to the tissue. Clinical trials are currently underway to test this treatment method for burn patients as well as to treat chemical burns of the cornea.

Dr. Jan Dutz, Rheumatologist and Head of Dermatology at British Columbia Children’s Hospital Research Institute, University of British Columbia, shared multiple advances in skin diseases and inflammatory conditions. The last 20 years have been unparalleled in Canadian skin science and the clinical area of dermatology. Successful large clinical trials and partnerships with pharmaceutical companies have produced numerous medications with high levels of efficacy and safety for inflammatory skin diseases. By blocking various cytokines (including TNFα, IL4, IL13, IL17 and IL23) in inflammatory reactions rather than skin cells directly, success rates have increased in over 80% of patients to clear psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and psoriatic arthritis. Canada has a history of developing innovative cameras and optical tools which also advance the diagnosis of skin conditions and other diseases.

Dr. An-Wen Chan, Phelan Scientist for Women’s College Research Institute, Professor of Medicine (Dermatology) at the University of Toronto and Principal Investigator for the Skin Investigation Network of Canada (SkIN Canada), provided insights on advances in skin cancer. Skin cancer is by far the most common malignancy in humans affecting over 90,000 Canadians every year. Recently, there have been major advances in the treatment of skin cancers that have spread to other organs. We now have therapies in Canada that harness the power of the immune system to attack tumour cells—specifically molecular defects in those tumour cells. For the first time in decades, clinicians are able to provide life-saving therapies for the most severe skin cancers including melanomas, Merkle cell, and metastatic squamous skin cell carcinomas. Advances have also taken place in technology for skin diagnostics. Because dermatology is a very visual field, artificial / augmented technology has played a key role in the analysis of imagery associated with skin cancers. This is especially important for patients living in remote locations who may not have access to skin specialists and dermatologic care.

The vision of SkIN Canada is to catalyze and sustain innovative, patient-driven, quality research that improves the skin health of Canadians. The Network’s mission, is to advance skin research in Canada by creating a national forum, guided by patients and knowledge users, to strengthen and harmonize collaborations and capacity in the skin research community. By mapping the skin research landscape, developing a critical national infrastructure, providing Team Development grants and multiple capacity building opportunities for trainees, the Network will streamline multi-centre collaboration. Learn more

Each speaker closed with valuable tips for trainees:

  • Get the best possible training you can find and aim high!
  • Choose research that you enjoy and are passionate about.
  • Find good mentors (not just supervisors, mentors) who will commit to supporting you.
  • Add different axes of research to your toolkit; this will foster innovation (for example: biostatics, bioinformatics, pharmaceutical industry collaborations, health and evaluation sciences)
  • There are currently thousands of recognized skin diseases. Focus now on finding, testing and adapting treatments used for common conditions and apply them to rare conditions using big data and bioinformatics.
  • Embrace open science. One of the best ways to increase the impact of the work done in skin research is to share protocols and data – and to publish openly and transparently.
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