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Elizabeth Otto, College of Medicine student

Exploring Dermatology Research: Elizabeth Otto

With a career in dermatology in mind, Elizabeth Otto set out last winter to find dermatology-related summer research opportunities in Northeast Ohio.

While exploring her options, Otto, now a second-year Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Medicine student, discovered the Murdough Family Center for Psoriasis and the many Case Western Reserve University professors and doctors associated with the center.

Getting hands-on experience

Supported by a National Psoriasis Foundation Summer Student Research Grant, Otto has spent her summer conducting psoriasis-related research underneath Nicole Ward, Ph.D., a professor of dermatology and director of the Morphology Core of the Skin Diseases Center in the Department of Dermatology at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Cleveland Center. Dr. Ward studies the co-morbidities surrounding psoriasis.

Otto explains that co-morbidities like psoriatic arthritis (also an autoimmune disease), depression and heart disease are often found in patients with psoriasis. Dr. Ward’s lab analyzes brain tissue to study the link between depression and psoriasis.

“It’s been really cool seeing what Dr. Ward’s lab has already done. The people there have been really great. I was a little bit nervous coming in that they would have super intense expectations about me, but every instance has been very educational,” Otto says.

Otto’s research with Dr. Ward looks at skin phenotypes that specifically relate to skin flakiness. Once she passes the preparation phase, Otto plans to look at slices of the skin under a microscope to see if the thickness of the skin is decreased by administration of a drug. She explains a distinct characteristic of the psoriasis phenotype is thick, flaky skin.

New insights

“I’ve gained such an appreciation for the preparation that it takes to do an experiment. I spent three or four weeks reading literature associated with the pathway I want to investigate. Then I had to come up with a way to feasibly test the results of the pathway that I was inhibiting. I also had to find appropriate protocols and order a lot of equipment in order to get ready to do the experiment,” says Otto.

Looking to the future

The investigator in Otto says that basic science research in the field of dermatology has been a great experience. Now she’s looking forward to exploring clinical research, too – both as a way to strengthen her residency application for this competitive field and to make her a better-educated physician overall.