A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Under the Skin


Abrar Qureshi digs deep to solve dermatology’s mysteries.

From animal tracks on fresh snow to birds in flight to sand whipped by the wind, Abrar Qureshi, MD, MPH, sees patterns where others don’t. “Did you know that you can tell more about an animal by looking at its tracks than if you saw it walk across a field? You could tell its weight. You could tell its age. Its gender. Whether it’s hungry or not. Whether it’s nervous or not. If it’s foraging or hunting or relaxing. Can you imagine that? Just looking at tracks,” says Qureshi, a look of amazement in his eyes.

Qureshi, chair of the Department of Dermatology at Alpert Medical School, gets the same excited look when describing his clinical work. “Walking into a patient’s room, looking at the pattern of their skin gives you a huge amount of information about who they are, what their personality is, what kind of work they do, whether they are indoors or outdoors a lot. You’re kind of like a detective,” he says. “Being in clinic is just so exciting that sometimes I lose track of time, so I’m always running behind. It’s a lot of fun.”

Like father like son

Qureshi, who came to Brown in March 2014, didn’t always feel this passion for dermatology. His father was one of the leading dermatologists in Pakistan, where Qureshi earned his medical degree, and at first he wasn’t keen on following in his father’s footsteps. “I wanted to be a surgeon,” he says. “I wanted to do things fast and cure people.” But he soon came to realize that skin offered some real advantages to a person with his deep interest in diagnosing and studying diseases.

The ease of collecting skin samples, which can be used not only for diagnosis but also for basic research, was a big
draw, and to this day Qureshi continues to take advantage of skin’s accessibility. Besides his busy clinical practice and chair duties, he’s undertaking a study of melanoma biopsies to try to identify gene expression patterns that correlate with cancer progression.

He also has found that he is particularly fond of the clinical acumen required for making diagnoses in dermatology, and he likes that patients are so involved in their care. “With psoriasis, patients are very aware of their skin. It affects quality of life, so patients are very engaged,” Qureshi says. “Most times patients … are very adherent to therapy. It is a pleasure to see positive results.”

Bitten by the research bug

After medical school, Qureshi headed to Boston, where he completed an internship in internal medicine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He did his dermatology residency at Harvard, where he was one of the first international medical graduates to receive a spot in the program. Though he enjoyed clinical work, Qureshi also had a strong desire for basic research experience. Someone suggested that he talk with Ethan Lerner, MD, PhD, a professor of dermatology at Harvard, about doing a research fellowship in his lab at Massachusetts General Hospital.

It was the start of a long friendship. Qureshi—whose father died at 59 of a heart attack—says Lerner is “like a father figure.” And like a father, Lerner gushes over Qureshi and his success. “He is always friendly. He is always level headed. He’s just nice. And he’s always honest,” Lerner says. “It was always delightful interacting with him, and we’ve been extremely close friends. … He’s done fabulously well.”

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