Consider the abuse our skin experiences. It is constantly scraped, cut, burned, and otherwise damaged in our daily activities. Our bodies regularly replace and grow new skin to maintain a healthy protective shield. This process is known as regeneration, and it happens every 2-3 weeks in young skin. As we age, skin regeneration slows, healing occurs more slowly, and skin becomes thinner and more easily damaged.

More than simply a wrapper for our bodies, skin plays a very important role in our health and is our body’s largest organ. Dr. Arup Indra strives to understand how skin is formed in the womb and what factors influence skin’s development and regeneration throughout the lifespan. Indra is an Associate Professor in the College of Pharmacy.

Inside the mother’s womb, a baby’s skin cells grow and form. But these cells do not mature and become ready to protect us until birth. When this final maturation step does not have time to occur, problems arise and threaten survival of premature babies. Indra and his research team have been studying CTIP2, a master regulator protein involved in skin formation from stem cells. Their work done in collaboration with Dr. Mark Leid in Pharmacy, will help to improve survival of premature babies with complications due to skin barrier defects.

Previous work by Dr. Gitali Indra, Research Assistant Professor in Pharmacy and a collaborator of Arup Indra, has shown that CTIP2 levels are high in inflammatory skin diseases. By understanding how, why, and when skin development and regeneration occurs, Indras’ findings can be used to improve treatment for those who suffer from eczema and atopic dermatitis. Nearly 6% of the world’s population has some form of atopic dermatitis. Additionally, by understanding what controls and signals skin development from stem cells, it may be possible to create new skin for patients with large burns and other significant skin wounds.

Arup Indra’s research, in collaboration with Gitali Indra, has also shown that CTIP2 is present in high levels in head and neck cancers. Because of this, CTIP2 can be used as a biomarker for diagnosis and a measure of success of chemotherapy or surgery. Globally, head and neck cancers are the 6th most common cancer and have very low survival rates.

Arup Indra’s lab is also working to determine how different skin cells talk to each other in normal and in disease states such as in the tumor microenvironment. These different skin cells include keratinocytes, cells that produce keratin and are the most abundant skin cell type, fibroblasts, cells that produce collagen and are important in wound healing, and melanocytes, cells which produce pigment such as in tanning. Indra’s laboratory has developed a unique mouse model for metastatic melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The incidence of melanoma is increasing at an alarming rate all over the world, and no cure exists so far for this deadly disease. Through Arup Indra’s work with this mouse model, it appears that one of the main reasons why normal melanocytes change into malignant, invasive melanoma cells is because of abnormal messages from keratinocytes.

As a postdoctoral researcher in France, Arup Indra examined ways in which drugs such as retinoic acid (commonly known as Retin A) effect skin cell regeneration by interaction with the skin cell’s nucleus. The nucleus is the master control center of a cell and determines when, how much, and what types of proteins are created and helps maintain a stable, constant condition of the skin. It was through this research that Indra developed his interest in skin, a very complex structure made of different types of epithelial cells. Indra plans to continue exploring the many avenues of skin research but may also explore ways to relate his findings to other cancers affecting epithelial cells such as breast, prostate, and colon tissue.

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