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Pilot “bed-to-bench and back” research training program for dermatologists

Lead Dermatologist: Dr. Maria Gnarra
Project team members:
Affiliation: UCSC & Parma Universities, Italy


Pilot ìbed-to-bench and backî research training program for dermatologists


This training program will fill the science gap in dermatology education by teaching basic laboratory techniques and their applications in dermatology research, via online and practical sessions.


Executive summary

The vast majority of Dermatology teaching programs do not include basic science training. Even most of the European PhD programs for clinicians in Dermatology are designed towards clinical research projects. Not fully understanding the cellular and molecular basis of skin disorders can severely hinder the development of new effective treatments. The aim of this project is to establish a Pilot “Bed-to-bench research and back” training program for doctors with an interest in dermatology including dermatology residents. Teaching basic laboratory techniques and their applications to dermatology research, with both online lectures and practical sessions, will be the focus of this project.

The challenge

There are currently few University Dermatology Departments with fully functioning basic and translational research laboratories. Moreover, most of the laboratory experiments are performed either by non-physician scientists working in these laboratories or outsourced to basic science departments. This leaves the dermatologist without a deep insight into the pathogenesis of the diseases of interest.

As an MD, in my final year of a PhD program in Dermatology, I have been observing the limitations of this system. PhDs often tend to overly focus on single pathogenesis pathways without fully grasping the complexity of the human body response. By working far from the affected patients bench based professionals tend with time to forget why we are doing this and who are we doing this for. At the same time, very few clinicians manage to become independent clinical scientist investigators. This is the result of different factors including the lack of basic science training in the medical schools and dedicated basic research time during residency programs.

This creates a vicious circle with fewer clinicians attracted everyday to basic and translational science research, and leaves them unable to understand the scientific methodology behind an original paper.

The “bed to bench research and back” course will provide doctors with the knowledge and ability to further investigate the pathogenesis of the disease in order to identify new molecular markers for future, more effective, treatments.

Project overview

The GALDERMA SKINPACT AWARD will help establish a basic and transitional research-training program in Dermatology through a series of lectures and interactive practical laboratory-based sessions at Parma University and Catholic University in Italy in order to attract more young clinicians toward research in the dermatology field.

As a plan to sustain the project beyond the support provided, the sessions will be performed and recorded in English and posted online on the hosting University’s website, following the already successful examples set by other prestigious institutions including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Further divulgation of the sessions through national and European dermatology scientific foundations will be discussed upon awarding of the grant. Those foundations may include the Italian Society of Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted disorders (SIDEMAST), the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (EADV), the European Society of Pediatric Dermatology (ESPD) and possibly the European Society of Dermatology Research (ESDR).

The following research techniques will be addressed:

  • Cell isolation (magnetic beads and medium selection) and characterization (FACS and FACS sorting)
  • Cell culture and managing (optimal storage and towing conditions)
  • Cell differentiation
  • Functional tests: proliferation, migration, cytotoxicity assay
  • Biochemical Assays: Western Blot, ELISA, qPCR
  • Tissue fixation (paraffin and fresh frozen)
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Principles of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPS)
  • Principle of “skin-on-a-chip”
  • Principles of grant writing
  • Internal Review Board (IRB) approval and informed consent

Power-point slides will be provided for each session.

The target audience for this project includes dermatology residents and clinicians with a particular interest in dermatology. Interested medical students and other healthcare professionals will have the possibility to audit the course. The Universities will be responsible for advertising the sessions.

Following the practical sessions, open discussion will be available on an online forum created with the purpose of continuing education in basic science research in dermatology to give the clinicians the possibility to share experiences and seek guidance on the challenging process of starting a new research project.

Moreover, four $1000 scholarships will be awarded, as part of the GALDERMA SKINPACT AWARD, to four young clinicians (two from Parma University and two from Catholic University) who showed talent and motivation towards pursuing translational research projects in dermatology to help with travel expenses for them to join the Dr Shawber laboratory at Columbia University Medical Center and learn new techniques to apply on dermatology research projects once back in their home institutions.

CV and motivations letters from the four clinicians will be forwarded to GALDERMA foundation.

This pilot educational project will hopefully be the first one of a series of modules intended to attract young dermatologists to basic and translational research in order to move forwards towards the development of new treatment for the improvement of the patient care.

Success criteria and evaluation

Success of the project will be evaluated in different stages:

  • A twelve-question test will be provided at the end of each session. Each question will have four possible answers, with only one correct.
  • At the end of the course, the attendee will be asked to complete a course evaluation questionnaire, and provide comments on how to improve it for possible future editions.
  • Moreover, the four clinicians who will have the opportunity to join the CUMC Laboratory will also be asked to complete a course evaluation questionnaire at the end of the stage.
  • A final survey will be sent to the course attendees after six months asking how the much the knowledge and skills learned during the sessions were successfully applied to dermatology research projects.

Progress reports will be sent to GALDERMA foundation, as well as the questionnaires upon the foundation request.


An interview with the 2015 SKINPACTAward winner in the Excellence in Education category – Expert Panel Award:
Dr. Maria Gnarra

“The SKINPACT Awards’ Excellence in Education category provided a unique opportunity for me to share what I learned during my PhD in Dermatology with my fellow dermatology clinicians. In doing so, I hope to narrow the gap between basic and clinical science research, provide them with tools to further investigate the pathogenesis of skin disorders, and potentially move towards finding new, more effective treatments.”

Dr. Maria Gnarra
UCSC & Parma Universities, Italy

What motivated you to submit a project application to the SKINPACT Awards?
To my knowledge, the SKINPACT Awards’ Excellence in Education category was one of the very few, if not the only, award dedicated to educational projects and not just pure research projects. Currently, there is a lack of basic science training in the medical schools and a shortage of dedicated basic research time during residency programs. The SKINPACT Award creates an opportunity to provide this training.

What is your project’s theme?
Pilot “Bed-to-Bench and Back” Research Training Program for Dermatologists.

After winning the Award and grant, how did you proceed with executing your project?
Firstly, PowerPoint slide presentations were prepared, addressing the following points:

  • Cell isolation and characterization
  • Cell culture
  • Functional tests/Biochemical Assays
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Grant writing
  • IRB approval and informed consent

Secondly, availability of classes will be secured for hands-on sessions.

What are the goals and measures of success for your project?
My goal is to provide clinicians with the tools to further investigate the pathogenesis of skin disorders and test new therapeutic approaches by teaching basic science techniques.

A measure of its success is the ability of clinicians who attend the course to be able to pursue research projects.

Who is working with you on your project?
Professor Ketty Peris, MD, from the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Rome, Italy and Professor Claudio Feliciani, MD, from Parma University in Italy.

What would be the impact of your project? How do you think your project will make a difference in the real world setting?
With this project, we aim to make a small step towards narrowing the gap between basic and clinical science research. The clinicians attending this course will be able to acquire the scientific method and laboratory skills to advance their research in the dermatology field.

What would you say to professionals who wish to apply to the SKINPACT Awards?
Think about real needs and challenges that need to be addressed in your daily professional life and what steps can be taken to solve them.

Finally, could you give some words of encouragement to inspire those who have ideas and initiatives?
The Galderma SKINPACT Awards Excellence in Education category provides an incredible opportunity to contribute to advancing the education of both patients and the medical community. Thanks to this award, we are empowered to make concrete changes and impact on future generations

A little bit more about Dr. Maria Gnarra…
"On a typical working day...
Currently, my work involves both clinical and basic science research in pediatric dermatology, in particular in the vascular anomaly field.
Moreover, I am responsible for training new members of the lab – teaching them basic science techniques and other laboratory skills.”