Atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema, is a condition that makes your skin red and itchy. It tends to be chronic, long-lasting, and flare-ups will occur periodically, sometimes accompanied by asthma or hay fever .
While there have been countless creams and ointments developed to alleviate the symptoms of eczema, doctors have still been unable to find a cure that can get rid of it permanently. Recently, however, researchers have made an important discovery that has not provided us with a cure, but has brought us one step closer to finding a solution to the condition.
New Discovery in Eczema Research
In 2006 researchers discovered that individuals who lacked the skin protein filaggrin were at a much greater risk for developing atopic eczema. Filaggrin helps shape individual skin cells and plays an important role in our skin’s barrier function .
If someone has a genetic mutation that prevents filaggrin from functioning properly, they can develop a number of skin conditions like eczema or ichthyosis vulgaris (a condition in which skin cells pile up like fish scales rather than shedding) .
The link between filaggrin mutation and eczema has been known to scientists, then, for several years, but understanding exactly how eczema develops as a result of that mutation remained a mystery.
In a 2017 study, scientists at Newcastle University made a breakthrough when they discovered a series of proteins and molecular pathways that led from this mutation to eczema. For the first time, they demonstrated that the loss of the filaggrin protein alone was enough to alter key proteins and pathways involved in triggering the insufferable skin condition .
The team made this discovery by creating a three-dimensional living skin model which they then altered to have the genetic mutation. They found that by only making that one change, a host of other molecular changes and important regulatory mechanisms in the skin were triggered, such as cell structure, barrier function, and how the skin responded to stress.
In total, the researchers identified seventeen proteins that were significantly altered after filaggrin was removed in the living skin model. These results were compared with sample from actual humans, and these proteins were similarly altered in patients with eczema.
They also compared their skin model to the skin of healthy individuals, and found that the proteins in those people’s skin were unchanged .
A Promising Step
This research is a very promising step toward building a better understanding of chronic skin conditions like eczema.
Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists said in a press release this new research expands on their knowledge of how filaggrin impacts other proteins and pathways on the skin, leading to the disease.
She added that given the level of suffering eczema causes, this is a pivotal piece of research. Once scientists know exactly what is happening in your skin if you have the filaggrin mutation, they will be able to look for treatments that stop that from happening.
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