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In this first instalment of the MRC TIDU Spotlight Series, we take a look at the Ogg Group - also known as the Translational Dermatology Unit.

An image of two men wearing lab coats facing away from the camera looking at an experiment in a lab.

The Translational Dermatology Unit is a research group within the MRC Translational Immune Discovery Unit led by Deputy Director Professor Graham Ogg. This group aims to understand how the immune system in human skin is involved in diseases, treatments and vaccinations. Alongside gaining a better understanding of disease pathways, this group is focused on being able to translate their findings into changes in clinical practice. 


The Ogg group studies a particular type of immune cell called a “T cell”, which is important in the skin for defending against infections but can also play a role in different forms of inflammation. Modifying the function of these T cells is known to help treat a number of inflammatory skin diseases, such as eczema (also known as dermatitis) and psoriasis. 

Researchers in the group extract T cells from skin samples and study their function using a variety of technologies that are available at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. These techniques include flow cytometry, imaging, gene expression analyses and gene editing. The information gained from these experiments helps the group understand more about how T cells are contributing to disease and how they might be controlled as part of new treatments.  

For example, the Ogg group has found that T cells respond to certain lipids (fats) which are produced at sites of skin damage.  The T cells then produce a number of substances (‘cytokines’) which can drive inflammation. The team think that one molecule in particular, called CD1a, is important for presenting these lipids to the T cells and has a key role in the skin.

Recently, researchers in the group have started to pick apart how the CD1a molecule functions in the skin.  This has provided many useful insights about how skin diseases can develop and has also uncovered various new methods of finding possible new treatments.  By directing new treatments to CD1a, the Ogg group believes that they can help certain skin conditions, including forms of inflammation and cancer. When these approaches progress to a certain point in the laboratory the group works with possible partners to take them forward towards application in the clinic.

When asked what achievements in the research group he was most proud of, Graham Ogg said:


I am really proud of the wonderful team in the lab who have really made so many amazing discoveries on CD1a and continue to advance things a long way. I am also proud of the success of our connections with others in the area, both in the UK and overseas.  By working closely with partners, we have found we can cover ground far more quickly and at much greater depth.  Our key collaborators include colleagues in Oxford such as Professor Tao Dong, and at Harvard (Professor Branch Moody) and Monash (Professor Jamie Rossjohn) universities, as well as longstanding and successful collaborations with Sri Lanka (Professor Gathsaurie Malavige) with whom we have worked for many years.  It is really such a pleasure working with talented, committed and enthusiastic people and to share the excitement of the discovery process while knowing the implications for patient benefit.

Professor Graham Ogg and his research group have found the long-term support through the MRC crucial for taking their discoveries to the point of engaging with partners for the next steps in the development of new treatments. As a member of the MRC Translational Immune Discovery Unit (formerly the Human Immunology Unit), they have access to state-of-the-art facilities and are able to draw on the knowledge and experience of the other researchers in the unit.

On the subject of the MRC TIDU, Prof Ogg said:

There is a shared and deep determination to really bring the science to patients and the public.  Collectively, this provides an outstanding research culture where students and staff are valued and supported and where we engage well with all those involved.