From the small town of Portville, N.Y., to the world stage, discover the story behind Beck's career and passion for science and medicine in this UR "Women of Invention" profile. The professor of Dermatology's atopic dermatitis research has led to an innovation that could deliver a variety of vaccines on a global scale.
When it comes to research and invention, "there are lots of great questions," says Lisa Beck, an internationally recognized expert in atopic dermatitis. "But not all of them have answers."
And even when those questions do have answers, those answers may be lurking in unexpected places.
For example, atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema, is a chronic skin disease that causes unsightly lesions, profound itching, and outright misery for up to 20 percent of children and 9 percent of adults.
There is no known cure. However, Beck's lab at the University of Rochester Medical Center discovered a defective protein that appears to be responsible for creating the "leaky" skin that causes the condition.
What's leaky skin? It occurs when "water comes out, which makes the skin dry, and allergens, microbes, and irritants get in and cause the characteristic inflammation of the disease," says Beck, a Dean's Professor of Dermatology. "And it makes you very allergy prone."
Her discovery of the defective protein may eventually lead to new ways to treat atopic dermatitis. But in the meantime, Beck and her collaborators—Ben Miller, also a professor of dermatology, and Anna De Benedetto, formerly at Rochester, now associate professor of dermatology at the University of Florida—have found a peptide that can temporarily "recreate" the same effect of having a faulty protein in healthy people as well.
That may not seem particularly helpful at first glance. But applied as part of a small wearable patch, the peptide can temporarily create temporary "leaks" in a very localized area of healthy skin. In doing so, it creates a perfect portal for vaccinating people or as an alternative route for drug delivery.