Skin game: Campus research institute is open and operating

By Alysia Sims                                                                                  

The Skin of Color Research Institute has been on the campus of Hampton University since August 2010.  For some students it is just a nice building on Tyler Street where people are rarely seen.  However, for the employees that work there, it is where they do daily research to improve and understand diseases that occur on the skins of people of color.

Two dermatologists, David McDaniel and Valerie Harvey, both professors at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, first suggested the idea of the Hampton University Skin of Color Research Institute (HUSCRI) to President William R. Harvey, reported Brandy Centolanza in

Centolanza reported that McDaniel and Harvey explained to President Harvey that black skin was very different for other than just the pigment.  They told him about the lack of knowledge and research regarding diseases and other issues that affect black people and other people with skin of color.

Walking into the Skin of Color Research Institute on any normal day, it may seem like no one works there.  The front lobby and the hallways were empty and it is extremely quiet.  Open any of the research room doors and the initial assumption is proven wrong.  About seven researchers are there for eight to 10 hours daily, working to come up with answers to skin disorders in people of color.

Valerie Harvey said, “There are not any new major developments.  We are still in the early stages of our research focusing on three main areas.”

The Skin of Color Research Institute uses its resources to develop therapies and identify disparities in diseases affecting people with skin of color, according to the HUSCRI website.  Their main focus is on three disorders:

  • Keloids, benign growths that occur as a result of trauma or injury to the skin. They can occur in anyone, but they appear to affect individuals of African, Hispanic, and Asian descent.  They can occur from acne, burns, ear piercing, surgical cuts and traumatic wounds;
  • Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA) a form of scarring alopecia, a scalp and hair loss disorder.  According to Lopresti et al. it was first noticed in African-Americans in the 1950s and was thought to be a result of reoccurring burning of the scalp through the petroleum in a person’s hair when using a hot comb from the stove. Later it was found that it affected men and women that did not use these styling techniques.  Now researchers believe that contributing factors to this alopecia may include styling techniques such as relaxers, tight braids, heavy extensions and certain oils;
  • The third area they are researching is Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation, darkening of the skin that results after an underlying skin condition has healed or after injury to the skin has occurred.  Some skin conditions include eczema, acne, and psoriasis.   

Harvey enjoys what she does as a dermatologist.  She likes seeing patients and really likes the research aspect of it all.  She said, “I enjoy making discoveries that can help improve skin conditions.  I feel the research we are doing is positive and exciting, hopefully we come up with findings and answers for some skin disorders.”

The Skin of Color Research Institute also allows undergraduate and graduate students to get involved in the research.  Ivory Patterson, a senior chemistry major from Milwaukee, interned there this summer, and still does research there as credit hours for a class.

Patterson made the first move by going to the research institute to see if they offered internships.  She got a chance to interview and her participation took off after that.

 Patterson is treated like every other researcher in the building going through the normal steps of preparation and sterilization before working in the lab.  During her internship she shadowed researchers and sometimes did her own experiments.

Patterson did research on pigment disorders and worked with Hexatoxylin and eosin, a popular staining method scientists use to study skin and tissue cells.

Patterson says that getting a chance to research in the Skin of Color Research Institute is a rewarding experience.  She said the most rewarding part was getting a chance to go to the annual Skin Symposium that the Skin of Color Research Institute has been holding once a year since 2010. 

Said Patterson, “It was great being in the presence of and meeting world-renowned doctors, researchers and physicians.”

The writer is a student at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications