Viruses could be used to infect and kill acne when antibiotics don't workScientists have isolated genomes of 11 bacteria-destroying virusesCould lead to topical therapies to treat condition associated with adolescence
08:32 GMT, 25 September 2012
Breakthrough: Viruses could be used to target and kill acne, a condition that commonly develops during adolescence
Viruses could be used to treat acne, according to a new study.
Scientists have isolated and studied the genomes of 11 viruses, known as phage, that can infect and kill acne-causing bacteria.
The breakthrough potentially paves the way for topical therapies that use viruses or viral products to treat the skin condition particularly associated with adolescence.
Study author Doctor Graham Hatfull of the University of Pittsburgh in the United States, said: 'There are two fairly obvious potential directions that could exploit this kind of research.
'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.'
The bacterium Propionibacterium acnes is a normal resident on human skin, but its numbers increase substantially at puberty, eliciting an inflammatory response that can lead to acne.
Although antibiotics can be effective in treating acne, antibiotic-resistant strains of P. acnes have emerged, highlighting the need for better therapies.
Dr Hatfull and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh along with scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, isolated phages and P. acnes bacteria from human volunteers with and without acne, then sequenced the phages’ genomes.
What they found in those genomes was surprising.
The phages were all remarkably similar, sharing more than 85 per cent of their DNA, an unheard of level of similarity among viruses, which usually exhibit a great deal of diversity.
They say the lack of genetic diversity suggests that resistance to phage-based antimicrobial therapy is less likely to develop.
The findings potentially pave the way for more effective topical therapies to replace current treatments
All of the phages carry a gene that makes a protein called endolysin, an enzyme that is thought to break down bacterial cell walls and kill the bacteria.
Dr Hatfull said enzymes like this are used in other applications, suggesting that endolysin from these phages might also be useful as a topical anti-acne therapeutic.
He added: 'This work has given us very useful information about the diversity of that set of enzymes and helps pave the way for thinking about potential applications.'
Dr Hatfull said future research with the phages will explore how they might be used therapeutically, but phages like these can also provide useful tools, such as genes and enzymes, that can be used to manipulate and understand the bacteria they infect.
He added: 'The information derived from these phages helps contribute toward those kinds of genetic tools.'
The findings were reported in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.