Edinburgh Research Explorer
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Willingness to take Ph.D. students: Yes

Area of Expertise

Research expertiseultraviolet, sunlight, eczema

Biography

I graduated in medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital, University of London (now part of King’s College, London) and undertook my general/internal medicine training in the north of England and in Australia.Having gained my MRCP I trained in dermatology at the Institute of Dermatology (St John’s) in London, and in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. I spent some time out of my clinical training to complete a research MD degree.  Having completed my dermatology training, I gained a scholarship from the University of Edinburgh, and spent three years in post-doctoral research training in the laboratories of Prof Victoria Kolb-Bachofen, Heinrich-Heine Universität, Dusseldorf, and of Dr Tim Billiar, University of Pittsburgh, USA.I was recruited from America to the post of Senior Lecturer, and latterly Reader in Dermatology and Associate Principal Investigator at the Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh.My time is divided between clinical duties, where I am an honorary NHS Consultant Dermatologist with a particular interest in medical dermatology and eczema, and the University where I have an active research group, and also a significant teaching commitment as Programme Director of the M.Med.Sci degree. 

I have co-founded a spin-out company, Relaxsol, based on my research. We have developed, patented and are now manufacturing, the first sunscreen to protect from UV, whilst at the same time allowing the normal healthy release of NO from sun exposed skin.  

Current Research Interests

Ultraviolet radiation and the skin

In 1996 I made the first description of nitric oxide (NO) production on the skin surface.  NO at the time was known to dilate blood vessels and thus help regulate blood pressure- work for which the discoverers received the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology in 1998- but it was also involved in control of a number of other functions.  Initially working in Aberdeen and Edinburgh and then at Heinrich-Heine University, Dusseldorf and the University of Pittsburgh I set out to uncover the role of this naturally produced NO in the skin.  Following the standard dermatological dogma of the time I spent my time in Germany and America looking at the effects of NO on keratinocyte (skin cell) survival after sun exposure. Although I was able to show effects of NOS derived NO in inhibiting apoptosis in cell culture and murine models, I was unable to replicate this in man.  Developing my work in Edinburgh on healthy volunteers, I was able to show that human skin contains large stores of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and that these are photo-reduced by UV radiation releasing NO to the circulation, with systemic effects, in particular lowering of BP.  This work is summarised in a TED talk

Work from my group and with a number of international collaborators is now finding a growing number of physiological and homeostatic processes that are dependent on this UV-skin NO mobilisation pathway.  Partly spurred on by the discovery of this mechanism, the risk-benefit ratio for population sunlight exposure is being reconsidered in Europe, Australia and the USA.  It is becoming clear that Vitamin D synthesis is not the only sun dependent homeostatic mechanism, and may in fact only account for a small part of health  benefits attributed to sun exposure. 

 

Current research activity:

  • I am continuing this work with a British Heart Foundation funded clinical trial on the use of UV to treat early hypertension.
  • With my current Masters student we are measuring the action spectrum of NO release from human skin
  • In collaboration with colleagues from the Renal Research Institute, we have performed a cross-sectional study of UV and BP in >340,000 dialysis patients at >2,000 locations to differentiate effects of wavelength, temperature and skin type on BP response to UV
  • I have been collaborating with Dr Shelley Gorman in Perth, Australia, who has identified a UV-skin NO mechanism limiting development of obesity and metabolic syndrome. 
  • Dr Andrew Blaikie and I are  co-supervising Dr Frederick Burgess who is studying the role of UV exposure on development of Tanzanian Endemic Optic Neuropathy

 

Eczema

My main clinical research interest is in Eczema and I also run the specialist adult eczema clinic for NHS Lothian in conjunction with Dr Claire Leitch. With Claire and others we have previously identified immunological functions of the filaggrin protein, which is usually deficient in eczema patients. I am currently co-supervising two PhD students looking at different aspects of eczema pathophysiology. 

Current research activity

  • My collaborator Dr Chengcan Yao has identified a new PGE2-IL22 pathway  which we then showed to be involved in subtypes of eczema.  PhD student Fiona Cunningham is working on this. 
  • Collaborator Dr  Donald Davidson has identified an antiprotease function of human beta defensin which limits barrier function damage created by Staph aureus exotoxins.   PhD student Jenny Shelley is continuing this work
  • I am principle investigator in Edinburgh for the EUROSTAD eczema registry study

 

Cutaneous leishmaniasis and Ethiopia

I have been teaching, training and examining dermatology residents in Ethiopia for the last decade, with annual visits and extended stays of 2 and 3 months in 2011 and 2017.  I have recently started collaborating with a team led by Dr Pascale Kropf  of Imperial College, studying the immunology of cutaneous leishmaniasis in Ethiopia, and particularly trying to identify why some patients have self limiting CL, while others progress to destructive, and often fatal Diffuse Cutaneous and Mucosal Leishmaniasis.

Websites

Qualifications

MB BS 1987

MRCP 1990

GMC Specialist Register (Dermatology) 1998

MD  2000

FRCP(Ed) 2006

My research in a nutshell

Research activities & awards

  1. The Amhara Public Health Institute leishmaniasis symposium

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course

  2. Scottish Allergy and Respiratory Academy

    Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk

  3. Presentation to African Heads of Mission on delivery of dermatology training in Ethiopia

    Activity: Consultancy typesWork on advisory panel to industry or government or non-government organisation

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