Atopic Dermatitis

by A. De Benedetto, MD,  R. Marsella, DVM, and D. Santoro, DVM, PhD

At the University of Florida, we established a unique collaboration between human and veterinary physicians to enhance our understanding on the pathogenesis of Atopic Dermatitis (also known as eczema), with the goal to translate our research findings in new treatment option for our patients (both people and animals).

Atopic dermatitis is characterized by skin barrier disruption, an aberrant adaptive immune response to environmental allergens (or antigen), susceptibility to cutaneous bacterial infections and intractable itch. Atopic dermatitis in dogs has striking similarities with the human counterpart both clinically and immunologically. As atopic dermatitis is a prevalent, chronic disease affecting 10-15% of children and up to 6% of adults in Westernized countries, studies to better understand the pathogenesis and identify new treatments have been in great demand.

Dr. De Benedetto’s research is focused on characterizing the cross talk between epidermal barrier structure and the immune system and their role in atopic dermatitis. The overriding hypothesis of her research is that repairing barrier defects may be effective in preventing and/or treating atopic dermatitis.  Dr. Marsella has developed an experimental model of atopic dermatitis in dogs at UF, which has been instrumental in studies on pathogenesis and studies to rapidly screen drugs with potential to be effective treatment options for both dogs and children. This model is unique in the world and represents a major improvement compared to the mouse model since dogs naturally develop atopic dermatitis and are genetically closer to humans than mice are. Dr. Santoro‘s research is mainly focused on the interaction between cutaneous innate immunity and cutaneous microflora. In particular, Dr. Santoro focuses on the role of antimicrobial peptides in the pathogenesis of skin infection in atopic dermatitis. The long-term goal of his research is to identify possible alterations in atopic keratinocytes to predispose to skin infections and atopic dermatitis.

The base of our truly translational research has been formed by clinically relevant questions and its motivated by the determination to take them to the bench and applying information acquired back to the clinics to improve treatments available to our patients (dogs and people).

The newly renovated state-of-art Comparative Dermatology laboratory is housed in the Small Animal Clinical Sciences – UF Veterinary College, in proximity of all UF core research facilities.