New viral treatment annihilates acne
An acne breakout has been the source of embarrassment to countless teens. Many try over-the-counter remedies or consult a physician in an attempt to avoid “ruining their life.” Physicians may soon have a new weapon against acne: a harmless virus living on our skin that naturally seeks out and kills the bacteria that lurk in our pores and cause dreaded zits.
UCLA and University of Pittsburgh researchers published their findings online on September 25 in the American Society for Microbiology’s mBio.
The researchers used drugstore pore-cleaning strips to lift acne bacteria and acne-battling viruses from the noses of pimply and clear-skinned volunteers. When the team sequenced the viruses’ genomes, they uncovered multiple traits ideal for a new therapeutic approach, one that could allow patients to avoid the problem of antibiotic-resistant strains of acne bacteria and the risky side effects of drugs like Accutane.
“Acne affects millions of people, yet we have few treatments that are both safe and effective,” noted principal investigator Dr. Robert Modlin, chief of dermatology and professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He added, “Harnessing a virus that naturally preys on the bacteria that causes pimples could offer a promising new tool against the physical and emotional scars of severe acne.”
The researchers looked at two little microbes that share a big name: Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium thriving in our pores that can trigger acne; and P. acnes phages, a family of viruses that live on human skin. The viruses are harmless to humans; however, they are programmed to infect and kill the aforementioned P. acnes bacteria. When P. acnes bacteria aggravate the immune system, it causes the swollen, red bumps associated with acne. Most effective treatments work by reducing the number of P. acnes bacteria on the skin.
“We know that sex hormones, facial oil and the immune system play a role in causing acne, however, a lot of research implicates P. acnes as an important trigger,” explained first author Laura Marinelli, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher in Modlin’s laboratory. She added, “Sometimes they set off an inflammatory response that contributes to the development of acne.”