New hope for treatment for eczema sufferers as scientists discover protein behind dry and scaly skin
Protein known as Ctip2 controls body fats that keep skin cells healthy and hydratedBut in people with eczema, it may malfunction, causing the characteristic dry, red, itchy skin
Findings pave way for new treatments, say researchers
11:05 GMT, 3 January 2013
18:22 GMT, 3 January 2013
The main genetic cause of a common type of eczema has been discovered by scientists, leading to hopes of fresh treatment
The main genetic cause of a common type of eczema has been discovered by scientists, leading to hopes of fresh treatment.
Researchers at Oregon State University found the condition, which affects millions around the world with dry, itchy and inflamed skin lesions, can be triggered by a malfunctioning protein known as Ctip2.
It was already known that the Ctip2 controls body fats that keep skin healthy and hydrated, but researchers have now discovered that if the protein is not performing properly it can cause atopic dermatitis, a common type of eczema.
Eczema allows significant loss of fluids through the skin, allowing allergens to penetrate.
The findings, published in science journal PLoS ONE, may pave the way for new approaches to helping sufferers of eczema, which is difficult to treat and has no known cure, researchers claim.
Arup Indra, an associate professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy said: 'In these studies, we've basically shown that inadequate Ctip2 is reducing the lipids in skin that it needs to stay healthy, protect itself and perform its function.
'At the same, time this can allow unwanted formation of proteins that trigger inflammation.
'The skin's ability to resist inflammation is going down just as the amount of inflammation is going up, and the underlying reason is that Ctip2 is not doing its job. Either or both of these problems can lead to eczema.'
The condition, characterised by dry, itchy red skin, is now estimated to affect up to 20 per cent of school children and up to 10 per cent of adults.
There is also a growing body of research indicating it may be linked to food or pollen allergens.
A protein known as Ctip2 controls body fats that keep skin cells (pictured) healthy and hydrated, but in people with eczema, it may malfunction
Atopic dermatitis is associated with a dysfunctional immune response, but researchers have never understood the underlying cause. Existing treatments use moisturisers to try to protect skin, and in difficult cases
powerful steroid drugs can help, but they often have significant unwanted side effects, especially in long-term use.
Most people outgrow it as they reach adulthood, but some suffer from the condition their entire life.
Mr Indra added: 'Our skin is the largest organ in the human body and one of the most important.
'It's our first barrier of defence, is in a constant battle against external insults, is influenced by both genetics and the environment, and has to be finely tuned to do many jobs. In eczema, this process begins to break down.'
Commenting on the research, Margaret Cox, chief executive of the National Eczema Society, told MailOnline: 'Getting to the bottom of what genetic factors influence eczema is important, as long-term, this gives the best hope of prevention.
'At the moment, we are very much building a jigsaw and this is another piece. I am clearly delighted to see a new development, but we are still quite a way off from finding a treatment that switches this gene off and on.'
For more information: http://www.eczema.org/ or call the National Eczema Society's helpline on 0800 089 1122