James Varani, Ph.D

James Varani, Ph.D
Chief Scientific Officer

Dr. Varani is an internationally recognized expert in human cell and tissue biology. His interests focus on the skin and the colon, with an emphasis on understanding how tissue homeostasis is maintained and how it is upset in cancer, aging / atrophy, and fibrotic disease. His laboratory has developed and utilized sophisticated human tissue models to study epithelial cell growth control in normal tissue, in pre-malignant diseases and in cancer. Extracellular matrix synthesis and breakdown in both the skin and the colon have also been extensively investigated in the same human tissue models. Utilizing a variety of in vitro and in vivo approaches, he has supported retinoid, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory research as well as anti-cancer drug and monoclonal antibody development. He has worked with a variety of biotechnology companies and large pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson and Johnson, Genentech, Pfizer and Amgen.

Epithelial cells in the colon and skin are similar. Dr. Varani’s research has provided insight into regulation of epithelial cell growth and differentiation in both tissue sites. In the colon, these studies are helping to understand how adenomatous polyps arise and how polyps can be prevented from going on to form invasive tumors. In the skin, such studies are directed toward understanding changes occurring in premalignant conditions such as actinic keratosis and in non-malignant hyperplastic diseases such as psoriasis.

The connective tissue in both sites is another focus. Understanding the cellular and molecular events that regulate connective tissue production is key to understanding both atrophy and fibrosis. Dr. Varani has developed unique tissue models to study connective tissue changes during aging / atrophy and during the development of fibrosis. His studies demonstrate that understanding how fibroblast proliferation is regulated is as critical to understanding these conditions as is the study of collagen production, per se. Signaling pathways controlling growth, extracellular matrix production, elaboration of matrix metalloproteinases and their inhibitors are being investigated.

In 2009 Dr. Varani founded JV Biolabs with his long-time collaborator and friend, Dr. Kent Johnson. Their expertise in the development and utilization of human cell and tissue models as well as expertise in a variety of animal models makes JV Biolabs uniquely positioned to provide insight into the pathophysiology of various disease processes. These same models provide a vehicle for pre-clinical assessment of therapeutic potential as well as toxicity. Additionally, clients gain access to the years of research of experience resident in the company’s founders. Both Drs. Varani and Johnson maintain active research programs in inflammatory skin disease, skin fibrosis, wound repair, colon cancer, and renal disease. They have had many successful research collaborations with multiple pharmaceutical companies in support of a variety of discovery and safety programs.

Many of the techniques offered by JV Biolabs originated out Dr. Varani’s research efforts and his extensive publications. His experience and expertise in cell culture, organ culture, and animal models of disease have been the basis of multiple NIH, SBIR, and STTR programs addressing diseases. This skill set also has been translated into support for numerous drug development programs.

Dr. Varani received his Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of North Dakota in 1974. After post-doctoral training in Inflammation Research with Dr. Peter Ward at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Varani moved to Michigan where he is a full professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Michigan Medical School.