dermatology

Lab Notes – Summer 2017

Melanoma’s Signature

illustration of a melanoma cell

Dangerous melanomas likely to metastasize have a distinctive molecular signature, UConn Health researchers reported in the February issue of Laboratory Investigation. Melanomas are traditionally rated on their thickness; very thin cancers can be surgically excised and require no further treatment, while thick ones are deemed invasive and require additional therapies. But melanomas of intermediate thickness are harder to judge. The researchers measured micro-RNAs produced by melanoma cells and compared them with the micro-RNAs in healthy skin. Micro-RNAs regulate protein expression in cells. The team found that melanomas with the worst outcomes produced lots of micro-RNA21 compared to melanomas of similar thickness with better outcomes. In the future this molecular signature could help dermatologists decide how aggressively to treat borderline melanomas.


Chili Pepper and Marijuana Calm the Gut

The medical benefits of marijuana are much debated, but what about those of chili peppers? It turns out that when eaten, both interact with the same receptor in our stomachs, according to UConn Health research published in the April 24 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists found feeding mice chili peppers meant less gut inflammation and cured those with Type 1 diabetes. Why? The chemical capsaicin in the peppers bonds to a receptor found in cells throughout the gastrointestinal tract, causing the cells to make anandamide — a compound chemically akin to the cannabinoids in marijuana. The research could lead to new therapies for diabetes and colitis and opens up intriguing questions about the relationship between the immune system, the gut, and the brain.

illustration of chili peppers and marijuana in the gut


Isolating Their Target

brain scan

Brain cells of individuals with Angelman syndrome fail to mature, disrupting the ability of the cells to form proper synaptic connections and causing a cascade of other developmental deficits that result in the rare neurogenetic disorder, according to UConn Health research. Neuroscientist Eric Levine’s team used stem cells derived from Angelman patients to identify the disorder’s underlying neuronal defects, an important step in the ongoing search for potential treatments and a possible cure. Previously, scientists had relied primarily on mouse models that mimic the disorder. The findings were published in the April 24 issue of Nature Communications. While Levine’s team investigates the physiology behind the disorder, UConn developmental geneticist Stormy Chamberlain’s team researches the genetic mechanisms that cause Angelman.


The Cornea’s Blindness Defense

eye

The formation of tumors in the eye can cause blindness. But for some reason our corneas have a natural ability to prevent that from happening. Led by Royce Mohan, UConn Health neuroscientists believe they have found the reason, findings that will be detailed in September’s Journal of Neuroscience Research. They link the tumor resistance to a pair of catalytic enzymes called extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2. When ERK1/2 are overactivated in a specific type of cell, the “anti-cancer privilege of the cornea’s supportive tissue can be overcome,” says Mohan. That happens in the rare disease neurofibromatosis-1. “These findings may inform research toward developing better strategies for the prevention of corneal neurofibromas,” says Dr. George McKie, cornea program director at the National Eye Institute, which funded the study.

Finding Skin Cancer in a Flash

Dr. Jane Grant-Kels and Jody D’Antonio, CMA, center, examine a high-resolution, cellular image of a patient’s skin using a technology called In Vivo Reflectance Confocal Microscopy.

Dr. Jane Grant-Kels, right, and Jody D’Antonio, CMA, center, examine a high-resolution, cellular image of a patient’s skin using a technology called In Vivo Reflectance Confocal Microscopy.


New technology at UConn Health has practically eliminated both unnecessary biopsies and human error in skin checks at the dermatologist’s office.

UConn Health is the only institution in Connecticut to offer the latest smart technology to hunt for skin cancer and keep an eye on changing moles. The integrated body-scanning camera and smart software technology, called FotoFinder Bodystudio Automated Total Body Mapping, “helps us find skin cancer in a flash,” says Dr. Jane Grant-Kels, professor and vice chair of UConn Health’s Department of Dermatology and director of the UConn Cutaneous Oncology Center and Melanoma Program.

FotoFinder allows dermatologists or staff to take 20 or more photos of a patient’s entire body, including the palms and the soles of the feet, in about 10 minutes. It also allows easy comparison of photographs year after year, and alerts the dermatologist to changes or new growths.

UConn Health is the only institution in Connecticut to offer the latest smart skin-mapping technology.

“This technology is going to help us save more lives from skin cancer and melanoma,” says Grant-Kels. “It allows for early detection and a more exact science of monitoring patients’ skin changes.”

If concerning growths are detected, another recently arrived technology called In Vivo Reflectance Confocal Microscopy uses a non-invasive optical imaging technique that provides a high-resolution cellular image of the skin. This new technology is safe and painless, and in many cases can be used in lieu of a painful skin biopsy.

“FotoFinder coupled with Confocal will help us go a long way to reducing the number of biopsies performed, including unnecessary biopsies of non-cancerous skin growths,” Grant-Kels says.

For baseline and follow-up photo sessions using the FotoFinder technology, a patient will be asked to get into the proper positions guided by a red laser light and a specially designed floor mat that ensures proper foot positioning. FotoFinder’s smart body-scanning camera automatically moves into various positions to take photos of the entire body, and the software module rapidly stitches the photos together for the dermatologist to review.

After the patient’s follow-up photo session, within seconds the technology precisely places the most recent skin images atop the baseline photos. The software seamlessly aligns and analyzes the new and old photos, and then circles all the detected new and visibly changed skin lesions and moles.

This technology is going to help us save more lives from skin cancer and melanoma.

White circles around lesions or moles signal to the dermatologist no change; yellow circles signal caution to the doctor, as the lesion or mole has changed since the last visit; and red circles raise alarm for the doctor, as a new lesion or mole growth has been identified. This allows the dermatologist to investigate the most alarming skin lesions first.

The technology also allows dermatologists to compare lesion or mole photos side-by-side and to quickly zoom from 20x up to 70x magnification to examine suspicious areas in high-resolution and determine which spots to examine more closely with the traditional handheld dermoscopy tool. The system also includes high-tech, handheld electronic dermoscopy with a built-in medicam for even closer examination and additional photo captures. Plus, the machine is mobile and can be moved easily among exam rooms.

The Doctors Are In – Spring 2016

UConn Health welcomes the following new physicians:


Seth Brown, MD

Specialties: Ear, Nose, and Throat/Otolaryngology, Otolaryngology Surgery
Location: Farmington


Saira Cherian, DO

Specialties: Internal Medicine, Primary Care
Locations: Farmington


Alexis Cordiano, MD

Specialty: Emergency Medicine
Location: Farmington


Montgomery Douglas, MD

UConn School of Medicine Chair
of Family Medicine

Specialty: Family Medicine
Location: Farmington


Jeffrey Indes, MD

Chief of the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery

Specialty: Vascular Surgery
Location: Farmington


Leah Kaye, MD

Specialty: Obstetrics and Gynecology
Location: Farmington


Glenn Konopaske, MD

Specialty: Psychiatry
Location: Farmington


Guoyang Luo, MD

Specialties: Obstetrics and Gynecology, Maternal-Fetal Medicine
Location: Farmington


Jose Montes-Rivera, MD

Specialties: Neurology, Epilepsy
Location: Farmington


Rafael Pacheco, MD

Specialty: Radiology
Location: Farmington


Mario Perez, MD, MPH

Specialties: Critical Care, Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine
Location: Farmington


Edward Perry, MD

Specialty: Hematology/Oncology
Location: Farmington


Surita Rao, MD

Specialties: Addiction Psychiatry, Psychiatry
Location: Farmington


Belachew Tessema, MD

Specialties: Ear, Nose, and Throat/Otolaryngology, Otolaryngology Surgery
Location: Farmington


Cristina Sánchez-Torres, MD

Specialties: Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychiatry
Locations: Farmington, West Hartford


Brian Schweinsburg, Ph.D.

Specialties: Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychology
Locations: Farmington, West Hartford


Mona Shahriari, MD

Specialties: Dermatology, Pediatric Dermatology
Locations: Canton, Farmington


Kipp Van Meter, DO

Specialties: Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Primary Care
Location: Canton