News Release

Boston University researcher receives grant to provide new insights into stem cell function

Grant and Award Announcement

Boston University School of Medicine

(Boston)—Deborah Lang, PhD, associate professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), has been awarded a three-year, $544,390 grant from the LEO Foundation, one of Denmark’s largest commercial foundations and owner of the pharmaceutical company LEO Pharma.

Specifically, the award will support her project: Melanocyte stem cell lineage determination and plasticity. The aim of this research is to define molecular events that promote stem cell maintenance and to test if melanocyte stem cells can be transformed into other cell types, such as nerves.

Melanocytes are pigment-producing skin cells. They serve as an excellent model for stem cell research because they are easily obtainable from the skin and have the potential to be modified into other types of cells. Lang has created a unique experimental model that fluorescently marks melanocyte stem cells.  “This model is an innovative and powerful tool to visualize and isolate pure stem cells without contaminating non-stem cells,” she explains.

The Lang lab, along with Andrey Sharov, MD, PhD, and other BUSM collaborators, will investigate gene expression in the stem cells, and how these stem cells change into pigment-producing melanocytes. Further, the team will test the ability of the melanocyte stem cells to turn in to other cells, such as neurons and neuron-like cells.   

This project will provide new insights into melanocyte stem cell function and flexibility to become other cell types. “The potential long-term impact of this project is that it will provide insight on normal melanocyte function, melanocyte dysfunction and pathology, and stem cell therapy,” she adds. 

Lang was recruited from the University of Chicago in 2016. Her research is centered on studying processes that occur in normal pigment cells and stem cells and applying these findings toward melanoma. She received her BS degree in chemistry from Philadelphia University and her PhD in molecular pathobiology from Drexel University in Philadelphia. Lang performed her fellowship in molecular and developmental biology from the University of Pennsylvania. 


Lang has mentored more than 20 students and has served as an elected council member and plenary speaker of the Pan American Society for Pigment Cell Research.

The LEO Foundation provides philanthropic grants with the aim to support the best international research in skin diseases and make Denmark a global beacon for skin research.

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