Ask the Expert: What Is Skin Inflammation?
The L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship program was launched in 2003 to provide funding and support to female scientists. Each year five female postdoctoral scientists are awarded grants of $60,000 each to advance their research. We spoke with 2016 fellow Dr. Shruti Naik of NYU Langone about how the program helped her with her research on inflammatory skin conditions.
If you hear that something is “inflamed,” you generally think it’s a bad thing, right? Puffed-up skin, redness, itching—these are common symptoms associated with inflammation. You might even take it a step further and think about common skin conditions associated with the aforementioned inflammatory symptoms, such as eczema or psoriasis.
Despite what you may otherwise assume, not all inflammation is bad. At least that’s what Dr. Shruti Naik, former fellow of the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science program, wants you to know. In fact, a lot of it can be quite good. We chatted with Dr. Naik and ahead she’s sharing details on what skin inflammation is, what causes skin inflammation, and how her research in immunology and stem cell biology is looking to make waves in its treatment and prevention.
WHAT IS SKIN INFLAMMATION?
Skin inflammation isn’t just an uncomfortable rash that pops up out of nowhere. According to Dr. Naik, “skin inflammation is a general process in which your body responds to stress, injury or infection, and is generally defined by redness and swelling.”
WHAT CAUSES SKIN INFLAMMATION?
Inflammation happens to be a key part of the healing process, making grounds for a “good” category of inflammation. “If you have a cut and your cut gets swelled,” explains Dr. Naik, “there are signals from your immune system that cause that inflammation. Certain molecules are secreted and sent by your skin to actually help it heal.” Essentially, that swelling you see around the area of injured skin serves as a red flag for cells to come and fix it. Sometimes, though, things can go wrong. This is where bad skin inflammation comes in.
“In any biological process,” says Dr. Naik, “there’s an ‘on’ switch and an ‘off’ switch, a simple check-and-balance that your body has to help promote normal health. But in cases such as eczema and psoriasis, these checks go awry.” Dr. Naik continues to explain that the already-hyperactive cells in your skin go into overdrive in these situations, overreacting to cues because that ‘off’ switch stopped working properly. These signals then run rampant, which is why the inflammation spreads. Types of “bad” skin inflammation are also known as “relax and remitting” diseases. This means that they chronically flare up and recede on the same areas of the skin.
HOW TO ADDRESS SKIN INFLAMMATION
If you’re experiencing inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, no need to fret! There are ways you can help ease symptoms and seek comfort.
To learn more about how to manage eczema, click here.
To learn more about how to manage psoriasis, click here.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT SKIN INFLAMMATION?
The key to taking preventative measures against something is by first learning to understand it. When it comes to understanding the causes behind inflammatory skin conditions, many researchers—Dr. Naik included—find themselves at the beginning stages.
There are a couple of characteristics of skin inflammation that leave some scientists scratching their heads. This can include questions like how the skin’s tissue is altered by the inflammation itself. With the help of the grant awarded to her by the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship, Dr. Naik is taking a closer look at stem cell communication and the potential it has in reversing negative skin inflammation’s damage to the body. From there, she’s seeking to discover ways to rewire stem cells within the tissue in order for them to go back to their previous state. This would help to reverse whatever damage was caused by the overactive cells and help take the next steps in preventing any type of negative inflammation in the future.
“It’s not about being a simple epidemiologist or being a simple biologist,” Dr. Naik says, “it’s about bringing together all these perspectives and not only approaching it as ‘we need to target only these stems cells’ or the skin, but how we can rationally identify all the various components of these diseases, so we have prospective therapies that are long-lasting.”
The 2018 L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellows are Amber Alhadeff, University of Pennsylvania; Stacy Copp, Los Alamos National Laboratory; Brecca Gaffney, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; Fan Liu, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; and Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Congratulations to all!