Kathleen Green, Ph.D., a professor of pathology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, studies the epithelial cells that form the outermost layer of the skin. Funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and administered by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) have enabled her to add staff and equipment to her lab. This has bolstered Dr. Green’s ability to better understand how skin epithelial cells communicate not only with each other, but with molecules in the extracellular matrix that lies below them.
"Sticky" molecules called desmogleins are known to hold epithelial cells in the skin together. Dr. Green’s team has found that a desmoglein-associated molecule called plakoglobin is not only active in cell-cell adhesion, but also regulates the expression and deposition of extracellular matrix molecules on which the epithelial cells sit and move. ARRA funding is allowing the team to further investigate the mechanisms involved in this activity.
The group has discovered, for example, that plakoglobin regulates fibronectin, a protein that binds both extracellular matrix components, such as collagen and fibrin, and cell membrane-spanning proteins called integrins. This ARRA-enabled work, says Dr. Green, should provide insights into both normal and disease-causing processes in the skin, including the regulation of cell movement during skin wound healing.
"ARRA funding," says Dr. Green, "has allowed us to capitalize on novel findings for which we did not have additional support. But it has also played a key role in accelerating our research by allowing us to retain a talented postdoctoral fellow and a research technician. In addition, we’ve been able to purchase equipment to increase our ability to carry out protein analysis."
The ARRA benefits extend beyond new knowledge and the economic stimulus provided by continued employment and equipment purchase. The retained postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Green remarks, is particularly active in the larger Northwestern academic community, and is engaged in collaborative efforts with other laboratories working in skin biology. Further, she plans to apply for an NIH Pathway to Independence career development award. Dr. Green’s research technician is also quite active as a liaison with the Northwestern University Skin Disease Research Center’s Keratinocyte Core. Their combined efforts, she remarks, "have enhanced the network of cutaneous biology researchers at our university."
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