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Jillian Richmond mentoring Morehouse med student Sachi Desse in research aimed to reduce disparities in dermatology

By Hallie Leo

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

December 15, 2022

Sachi Desse and Jillian Richmond, PhD

A Morehouse School of Medicine student is studying a rare group of blood cancers that disproportionately affect Black people, with the support of mentor Jillian Richmond, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology, and a grant from the Dermatology Foundation.

Medical student Sachi Desse is examining how cutaneous T cell lymphoma genes are expressed. The goal is to identify potential biomarkers and novel treatment targets for this group of rare blood cancers that affect the skin so that people can be diagnosed earlier and receive targeted therapy.

“Originally thought of as a disease that presented primarily in older white men, cutaneous T cell lymphoma is diagnosed much later and with a worse prognosis in young Black women,” said Desse. “I wanted to integrate skin of color and inflammatory diseases and Dr. Richmond guided me through that.”

“Historically young Black women have not been included in research opportunities, including clinical trials,” said Dr. Richmond, who collaborated with Angel Byrd, MD, PhD, and Ginette Okoye, MD, both of Howard University. “We’re trying to address this disparity and pave the way for future inclusion.”

Desse sought Richmond’s mentorship last December because her school in Georgia doesn’t have a dermatology program. Richmond received a Diversity Supplement Award from the Dermatology Foundation to mentor Desse. After a year working remotely, Desse came to Worcester last month to do some research in Richmond’s lab and clinical rotations in the Department of Dermatology.

Desse’s parents emigrated from Haiti to Queens. She became interested in skin health when her sister was diagnosed with hidradenitis suppurativa, a chronic skin condition that causes lumps to form.

“It’s no secret that patients of color are often misdiagnosed, misunderstood and sometimes disregarded,” said Desse. “My interest in dermatology evolved further when I started research on cutaneous T cell lymphoma at UMass Chan and saw how it presents differently in patients of color.”

Richmond also received a Diversity Research Supplement Award to fund her work with Aisha Jamison, a student at the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Ohio. Jamison got in touch with Richmond to make sense of a relative’s recent systemic lupus erythematosus diagnosis and is now researching lupus. Last year the award funded lymphoma research carried out by SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University student Jadesola “Jadé” Temitope Olayinka, who was also mentored by Richmond.

“Dermatology is the second-least diverse medical specialty, so I am highly motivated to mentor diverse students who are interested in the field to support them in pursuing the career of their choice,” said Richmond. “I am privileged to work with these students, who are the best and brightest in their respective programs.”

Related UMass Chan News stories:
Dermatology research fellow receives diversity grant for lupus research
Jillian Richmond receives diversity award to mentor med student on lymphoma research