Renovated dermatology lab marks unique new research collaboration

Dr. Marsella, Dr. Vincek and colleague

Dr. Vladimir Vincek, second from left, and Dr. Rosanna Marsella, right, are shown viewing slides in the dermatology suite at UF Health Springhill on Oct. 16. With them is a colleague. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

With the cut of a bright blue ribbon, a newly renovated dermatology laboratory at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine officially opened its doors on Oct. 21, marking a new era and a possibly unprecedented level of collaboration between veterinarians and physicians who share a common interest in skin diseases.

The laboratory will provide the infrastructure to enhance interdisciplinary dermatology research between the two colleges, administrators said. Under the co-direction of Dr. Rosanna Marsella, a professor of small animal dermatology at UF, and Dr. Vladimir Vincek, head of the UF College of Medicine’s department of dermatology, faculty members and residents-in-training from Vincek’s department, which historically has been clinically oriented, will be able to develop and hone their research skills.

“I’m not aware of anything like this going on anyplace else, so what we are doing is truly unique,” Marsella said. “In the past, people looked at two types of medicine, veterinary and human, as really separate. As we learn more, however, we are realizing more about diseases, and the causes of diseases, that can be shared across species.”

Although medical students with an interest in research have unofficially spent time in Marsella’s laboratory in the past, an agreement that went into effect earlier this year formalizes the arrangement and extends access to faculty members and residents, Marsella said.

“I look at it as, we had a period of engagement and now we’re married,” she said. “Because the bulk of the people in the dermatology department are clinicians, they don’t have time to do research. So we wanted to facilitate this agreement so that they can run their clinical trials while we provide the expertise so that they can do this more effectively.”

From conducting specific projects to testing samples, learning how to perform cell cultures, the human dermatologists making use of the renovated laboratory will now have a dedicated space at the veterinary college while taking advantage of Marsella’s scientific expertise and renowned track record in research.

Marsella will also be accessible to these individuals at their academic departmental home at UF Health Springhill in northwest Gainesville. She now splits her time between the UF veterinary college, where she oversees dermatology research and continues to see animal patients, and the Springhill location.

At Springhill, Marsella will have a “mini research office,” through which staff members who assist in preparing grants at the veterinary college will spend dedicated time to share their expertise in searching for funding and in the grant writing process.

The collaboration between Marsella and Vincek began almost three years ago, when Vincek attended a talk Marsella gave on the dermatology model she developed in beagles. At the time, the dermatology department was a division within the College of Medicine. Soon after, it became a department, and Vincek was named chairman.

His focus initially was building the department’s clinical expertise.

“When we started, we had three general dermatologists,” Vincek said. “Now we have 10, with three more to be procured by January.”

He noted a new operation opening soon at UF Health Jacksonville, and an office in Ocala set to open sometime next spring.

“We’re growing beyond my wildest dreams,” Vincek said.

But while Vincek is proud of the clinical accomplishments of his department, he also recognizes that an enhanced research component bodes well on many levels for its future.

“Our clinical recruitment has been going very well, but it’s been difficult to recruit a new researcher because there was no specific human dermatology research at UF,” Vincek said. “A collaboration with the UF College of Veterinary Medicine seemed to us like a great idea.”

Marsella is well respected at UF, nationally and internationally for her accomplishments in veterinary dermatology research. She has long had an interest in the translational aspect of her work – how what she’s doing can help people, as well as animals.

“For example, dogs naturally develop atopic dermatitis that is clinically and immunologically identical to the human condition, thus constituting the ideal species for an animal model that can help identify ways to prevent or halt the progression of the disease,” Marsella said.

The recipient of a UF Research Foundation Professorship this year, Marsella developed and validated just such an animal model using a colony of beagles with atopic dermatitis, which has led to the testing of promising drugs for use in both children and pets.

“With an animal model in dogs, we see very similar things to what we see in humans,” Vincek said. “So if you have any type of drug that is tested in animals, you are more likely to recruit people interested in this type of research.”

He added, “Although these people will probably never be bench scientists, if we provide them with this opportunity, we hope they will like that component and become academic dermatologists.”


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