Dr. Eleni Linos took some time out from her work as Professor of Dermatology and Epidemiology at Stanford University to speak with us about how the Dermatology Foundation has played an essential role in her career focusing on public health, cancer prevention, and care for older adults.
Dermatology Foundation: You’re currently professor of dermatology at Stanford and you mentioned that you first heard of the Foundation when you were a resident at Stanford. Tell us a little more about that first connection to DF.
Dr. Linos: The Foundation played a key role in my transition from residency to becoming a physician-scientist and academic dermatologist. I am so grateful. It really is a key step for all of us interested in research careers. The DF has dedicated career development awards and diversity awards that have supported many trainees. This funding has been instrumental in shaping many careers, including my own.
“The Dermatology Foundation has dedicated career development awards and diversity awards that have supported many trainees.”
DF: And what was the project that you were interested in pursuing at the time?
Dr. Linos: It was a project about overuse of skin cancer surgery in older adults. The goal was to try and understand how we can improve the care of older adults by reducing unnecessary treatments and reducing complications and risks of procedures.
DF: And how did it help to have that connection to the Foundation?
Dr. Linos: Well, they funded my research. (laughs)
You need funding to conduct scientific research, right? The NIH is obviously one really important way to support rigorous scientific research within Dermatology. But for most junior investigators, the DF is the first step, and can be very helpful in getting subsequent NIH grants. Without the DF CDA award, I would not have been eligible to apply for the National Institute on Aging Beeson Award that I was fortunate enough to receive later on. So, that very first Dermatology Foundation award was instrumental in allowing me to go on to get more NIH funding and pursue an academic career.
DF: So, the Dermatology Foundation’s work supporting early-career research is fundamental to going on to a career in research.
Dr. Linos: It’s almost essential. I don’t think I know many researchers in academic dermatology who have not been supported through the Dermatology Foundation, especially at the early stages of their careers.
DF: The Dermatology Foundation is very committed to advancing the specialty overall and especially with young investigators to make sure that research is continuing. There’s so much potential in dermatology connected to broader healthcare, and there are exciting discoveries being made. Can you speak a little bit about what you see as the frontier of research?
Dr. Linos: Sure. I’m an epidemiologist, I’m trained in public health. So, for me, the COVID 19 pandemic has really exemplified the importance of public health research and epidemiology in a way that really wasn’t as obvious two years ago. I think a lot of people did not realize the power, the depth, and the rigor of population-based public health research.
“That intersection of public health and dermatology is a huge opportunity where we can have major positive impact on people’s lives.”
And now everyone in the whole world knows what epidemiology is, what clinical research is, and how impactful it is to their lives directly. For me, the next frontier is expanding the scope of the Foundation and dermatology research to support more rigorous public health research. That intersection of public health and dermatology is a huge opportunity where we can have major positive impact on people’s lives.
DF: What work are you doing right now? What is your current research?
Dr. Linos: Most of our research projects right now are focused at the intersection of dermatology, public health, and technology. Specifically, we’ve continued the work that was initially funded by the Dermatology Foundation over 10 years ago; the topic of my first career development award. That was focused on reducing unnecessary surgeries and reducing the risks of overtreatment for older adults. And now — fast forward maybe 10 or 15 years — and we’re developing digital solutions for home monitoring of skin diseases to allow older adults to stay at home safely, while getting really high-quality care through remote digital monitoring of their skin disease.
“How do we use social media to reach the right person at the right time to help them make better choices and reduce their risk of melanoma?”
Another area of research our team is focused on is the use of social media for disseminating public health messages. That started off with a focus on melanoma prevention. The question we were trying to answer was “How do we use social media to reach the right person at the right time to help them make better choices and reduce their risk of melanoma?” We’ve adapted and pivoted due to COVID to use all those skills and techniques to try and disseminate COVID vaccination messages, to try and increase vaccination rates across the U.S., especially for vulnerable populations. We’re using the same techniques, but to solve a different public health priority.
DF: And so immediately relevant and important! You have an NIH mentorship award supporting time to mentor and train the next generation of physician scientists in dermatology, and also serve as the director of diversity for your department. Can you share more about that aspect of your work?
Dr. Linos: I’m very committed to supporting and training the next generation of physician scientists, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, and that manifests in many ways. One of the ways is to encourage people to apply for Foundation career development awards. I’m also continuing to mentor trainees at all stages from high school students, med students, and residents, to junior faculty through their career paths. This really is the most rewarding part of my job.
DF: We often hear how a connection to cutting-edge research is appreciated by those in private practice and how gratifying it is to contribute to that research through the DF. What are your thoughts on the connection between researchers and clinicians?
Dr. Linos: I think that the connection between clinicians and researchers is a two-way street.
Clinicians, who have experience seeing patients day in day out, are just so wise and so thoughtful at coming up with research questions that can directly benefit patients. The research community benefits greatly from that clinical expertise. Perhaps the DF can also get input directly from dermatologist clinicians on research priorities. I truly believe that our clinician colleagues have such valuable insights.
At the same time, research findings can be directly applicable to clinical practice. I believe that the more clinically relevant research the DF can fund, the better. And as a non-profit organization, the DF needs the financial support from clinicians in order to fund this research.
We started inviting clinicians to our monthly Patient-Oriented Research Team meetings years ago, and found the insights that come from direct patient contact and clinical experience are incredible. That clinical wisdom should never be underestimated.
DF: In your work now do you see any other role that the Foundation provides to support your work?
Dr. Linos: Community is really important. I was delighted to serve on the review committee for research awards over the last three years. Yes, the funding is important and helpful, and there should be more of it in public health and clinical research, but the sense of community that the Dermatology Foundation represents and fosters is also important. There are so many wonderful people, great researchers, and role models for our dermatology community involved.
DF: What do you think really sets the Foundation apart? You’ve mentioned the obvious importance of the research funding and the community, as well as the quality and caliber, but is there anything else that you think really makes them unique as an organization?
Dr. Linos: Yes, those three things really are what make the Foundation unique — the sense of community, the caliber and excellence of everyone involved, and the actual research funding which shouldn’t be underestimated. The DF has pretty much launched every academic career I can think of. It’s been an instrumental step for the future leaders, and the teachers of the next generation. So, it’s a big deal because it has this exponential impact on the field of dermatology as a whole. I’m a big fan of the Foundation.
Eleni Linos M.D., M.P.H., DrPH, is Professor of Dermatology and Epidemiology at Stanford University.
Her current work is focused on understanding the impact of novel coronavirus COVID-19 on the health and well-being of communities.
Dr. Linos’ work also focuses on public health, cancer prevention, and the care of older adults. Dr. Linos is dually trained in epidemiology and dermatology and is the principal investigator of several NIH-funded studies aimed at improving the lives of patients. She received her medical degree from Cambridge and Oxford Universities in the U.K., then trained in epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and completed her residency at Stanford.