Studying genetic causes of atopic dermatitis

When the skin barrier is defect, inflammatory skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis can arise. Maria Bradley is engaged in research focusing on the genetic causes of the disease and how they vary in populations in different parts of the world.

Portrait of Maria Bradley in laboratory environment.
Photo: Jens Sölvberg

What are you researching?

“My research is focused on inflam­matory skin disorders, atopic eczema in particular. This is a public health disease that affects 20 percent of Swedish children and 10 percent of the adult population, and that very negatively affects the quality of life.

With atopic eczema, defects occur in the skin barrier, which lead to an abnormal immune response. The condition is caused by a complex interaction between several muta­tions in combination with several environmental factors, and we want to understand how this occurs. To a large extent, our research is about what the mutations are, however we are also investigating how they interact with other factors. We are engaged in research on both Swedish eczema patients and other cohorts – primarily in Africa but also in South America and Asia.”

Why is that?

“The causes of the disease, including risk genes, differ greatly between different populations. Among other things our research team has shown that the most common mutation in atopic eczema in Europeans and North Americans is not found at all in eczema patients in Africa. The fact that mutations, and thus disease mechanisms, differ means that future treatments may need to be indivi­dually adapted. Currently, we are pursuing studies focusing on how the skin’s flora of microorganisms, its microbiome, affects eczema in in­teraction with the patient’s mutations and their immediate environment. Is the microbiome of the skin dif­ferent in eczema patients in Ethiopia compared to eczema patients from Ethiopia who live in Sweden?”

What do you seek to achieve in the long run?

“As a clinician, I see many patients with severe atopic dermatitis, and my hope is that the increased know­ledge about the disease’s mechanisms can in the future increase the quality of life for my patients – by leading to more effective treatments and ultimately to preventive measures that inhibit disease outbreaks. With the global puzzle we are now putting together, I want to contribute so that knowledge and proper treatments will benefit all patients, regardless of which part of the world they live in.”

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in From Cell to Society 2020.

Maria Bradley

Professor of Dermatology and Venereology at the Department of Medicine, Solna

Maria Bradley was born in Stockholm and received her education from KI, obtaining a medical degree in 1987 and becoming a specialist in dermatology and venereology in 1996. After obtaining a PhD in 2001, she held a postdoc position at Stanford University, California, USA, during the period 2001–2002. Bradley became an associate professor in 2008.

Bradley has been the Director of Stu-dies at the Dermatology and Venereology Unit at the Department of Medicine, Solna, since 2016, where she was also Acting Head of Unit for the years 2016– 2018. She was a member of the Board of Higher Education at KI in 2014-2018.

As a clinician, Bradley has been active primarily at Karolinska University Hos­pital, where she is a senior physician. In addition, she has also worked in Zambia and Ethiopia and is the project manager for KI’s Linnaeus-Palme programme for ex-change teachers and students in Malawi.

Maria Bradley was appointed Professor of Dermatology and Venereology at Karo-linska Institutet from October 1, 2019.

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