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Dr. Sarah Whitley

Dr. Whitley is co-director of the UMass Chan Hidradenitis Suppurativa Center, a principal investigator in the Autoimmune Therapeutics Institute, and Assistant Professor in the Department of Dermatology at UMass Chan Medical School in Worcester, MA. Dr. Whitley’s career goal is to accelerate development of more effective therapies for hidradenitis suppurativa (HS). She uses basic, translational, and clinical research approaches to better understand the epithelial and immune defects underlying HS, and leads a team of researchers dedicated to developing and testing novel HS therapeutics.

She earned her MD and PhD degrees at University of Alabama at Birmingham as part of the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) and her PhD thesis investigated mechanisms that control the development and function of IL-17 producing CD4+ T (Th17) cells, which are hypothesized to be critically involved in initiation and/or progression of HS. She then completed a medical residency in dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) followed by a post-doctoral research fellowship.  Her resultant research defined molecular signals required for maintenance of pathogenic Th17 cells within skin and showed that existing anti-IL-23 biologic therapies durably suppress inflammation common to psoriasis and HS through depletion of these memory T cells.  Dr. Whitley served on the faculty of the Department of Dermatology at UPMC for five years, where she directed an HS specialty clinic and was mentored by HS experts Drs. Joslyn Kirby (Penn State Health) and Iltefat Hamzavi (Henry Ford Medical Center) in the clinical care of HS (medical and surgical). Since her recruitment to UMass Chan in 2022, she has expanded her research platform to include projects that investigate the mechanistic basis of HS pain, explore the role of pain-sensing neurons (nociceptors) in the aberrant immune responses underlying HS, evaluate the roles of stromal and epithelial cells in disease initiation, and assess impact of HS treatments on pain/itch symptoms and quality of life. Dr. Whitley’s growing research team, and the excellent clinical care team at the UMass Chan Hidradenitis Suppurativa Center aim to promote precision care for HS and train the next generation of physicians and scientists to reduce suffering and improve outcomes for HS patients.

Dr. Whitley has authored multiple research publications on HS and Type-17 immunity, that is central to the immunopathogenesis of HS, and has lectured on these and other topics to local, regional, and national audiences. She receives grant support from the NIH, Dermatology Foundation, Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation, and the National Eczema Association. Dr. Whitley is an ad hoc reviewer on grant applications for governmental and private organizations, as well as multiple research journals, including Science Translational Medicine, Science Immunology, Cell Reports, the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, JAMA Dermatology, British Dermatology, and others. She is an advisor and collaborator with pharmaceutical companies, including AbbVie, Eli Lilly, and Sanofi, and collaborates with other physicians and scientists at UMass Chan and other universities to advance discoveries relevant to HS immune pathology.

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