Researchers Harness Viruses to Cure Acne
Researchers at UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh are excited to talk about their latest discovery, which may open the door for new acne treatments and other medical developments. The study reveals that harmless skin viruses called phages have the ability to infect and kill Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria that causes acne. Harnessing phages will offer doctors and patients a new way to fight the stubborn skin condition that affects up to 85% of the country’s population. People who are unresponsive to typical acne treatments—like benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics—may find phages particularly intriguing.
"There are two fairly obvious potential directions that could exploit this kind of research," said Graham Hatfull, Eberly Family Professor of Biotechnology at the University of Pittsburgh and the study’s co-author. "The first is the possibility of using the phages directly as a therapy for acne. The second is the opportunity to use phage-derived components for their activities."
Acne plagues people of all ages, but especially those going through puberty whose p. acnes levels are at a peak. The bacteria flourish in oily environments and quickly become inflamed in the form of a papule, pustule, or cyst. An estimated 40 to 50 million people in the United States experience or have experienced the embarrassing skin condition.
The study found that phages produce endolysin, a protein that battles the p. acnes bacteria. Many of today’s most popular acne treatments target p. acnes bacteria, with ranging efficacy. Over-the-counter medications containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are often too harsh, drying out the skin and causing even more oil production. Prescription medications like Accutane and birth control pills tend to be effective, but are also associated with risky side effects. Acne treatment utilizing phages will likely start out at the prescription level, or perhaps join the ranks of solutions like blue light therapy and chemical peels before becoming widely available.
Researchers were also able to conclude the genetic profile of phages, which helps to better understand their capabilities for treating acne. Phages share about 85 percent of their DNA, which is a rare trait for viruses. The high percentage makes immunity development rare—an attractive benefit for anyone who’s rejoiced in finding an efficient acne solution only to have it stop working over time.
Co-researcher Dr Jenny Kim, director of the UCLA Clinic for Acne, Rosacea and Aesthetics, said: "Antibiotics such as tetracycline are so widely used that many acne strains have developed resistance, and drugs like Accutane, while effective, can produce risky side effects, limiting their use."
Hermione Lawson of the British Skin Foundation echoed many experts’ enthusiasm over the study. "We understand how distressing the symptoms of acne can be for its sufferers and welcome any developments that can lead to a cure or at least a better understanding of the disease."
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