Center for the Study of Itch (CSI)


Addressing chronic itch (in cancer; liver, kidney, and skin disease; allergy)

Chronic itch is a debilitating condition that, for many, has no effective treatment. As the world’s first research center dedicated to understanding and addressing chronic itch, CSI’s mission is to find the answers needed to develop effective treatments.


Identify the genes and nerve pathways responsible for itch

Find and test effective ways to treat and prevent chronic itch

Improve our basic understanding of the nervous system, including how itch relates to pain

Provide innovative training to prepare the next generation of leaders

Lynn Cornelius, MD, and Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD

Directors: Lynn Cornelius, MD, and Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD

Itch may seem like a trivial issue, but when patients have this condition constantly without adequate relief, it takes over their lives. We are pursuing the solutions they desperately need.

— Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD


The Center for the Study of Itch (CSI) is dedicated to bringing scientists and clinicians together to study the causes of chronic itch and, ultimately, to translate those findings into better treatments for chronic sufferers.

The CSI is the world's first research center dedicated to understanding and addressing chronic itch. Its goals include expanding the existing research capacity for itch, significantly increasing the understanding of skin-nerve interactions, fostering collaboration between basic research and clinical studies, and providing innovative educational programs for those interested in studying chronic itch.

Affecting a significant number of people worldwide, chronic itch can occur in certain types of cancer, in diseases of the liver, skin or kidneys, from allergies, or as a result of medical treatments. Without relief, itch erodes quality of life and can lead to additional medical complications and even become debilitating.

Historically, itch was regarded as a less intense version of pain. As a result, basic research on itching has been neglected. Only in the last few years has itch been studied as its own entity at a molecular level using mouse genetics.

CSI director Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD, professor of anesthesiology, of psychiatry and of developmental biology, became interested in itch while looking for genes in the spinal cord’s pain pathway. Among the potential pain-sensing genes his team found was gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR), which turned out to be the first itch-specific receptor to be identified. Chen’s studies strongly suggest that itch and pain signals are transmitted along different pathways, indicating that itch needs to be studied as a disease in its own right.

CSI Cores

Basic Research Section and Behavioral Core

  • Elucidates the fundamental mechanisms of itch

  • Serves as a catalyst for the development of novel therapeutic agents

Clinical Research, Trials and Patient Care Section

  • Prioritizes basic research

  • Creating a clinical research database and skin biopsy biobank to support genetic research

  • Eventually, will conduct therapeutic trials aimed at evaluating the targeted therapies ultimately designed and developed by the basic research section


Director: Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD, professor of anesthesiology, developmental biology and psychiatry

Co-Director: Lynn Cornelius, MD, Winfred A. and Emma N. Showman Professor of Dermatology and professor of medicine