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Eczema: researchers identify key factors causing this chronic skin condition

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A new study by researchers at New York State University in Binghamton is examining the link between lipids and bacteria, with the aim of determining why eczema is growing and potentially helping to identify better treatments.

Eczema, a chronic skin condition also known as atopic dermatitis. Worldwide, around 5% of adults and around 15% of children suffer from symptoms such as dry skin, rashes, very itchy (itchy) with open wounds. Although there are many more or less effective treatments for eczema, such as medical creams and natural remedies, the exact causes of the disease remain unknown to this day.

In their new research, the team of scientists: associate professor Guy German and doctoral student Zachary W. Lipsky from the biomedical engineering department of the Thomas J. Watson School (at New York State University in Binghamton ), as well as Associate Professor Claudia NH Marques of the Department of Biological Sciences at Harpur College of Arts and Sciences (also at New York State University), linked two aspects of eczema research, which are rarely studied together.

One of the consequences of atopic dermatitis is a decrease in the level of skin oils, called lipids (fats), in particular a group of lipids called ceramides . You should know that the lipids on the surface of the skin serve to regulate hydration and also help defend the dermis against foreign invaders, either indirectly by immune signaling, or directly by their inherent antimicrobial activity. Another result of eczema is an increase in staph bacteria in the skin, which can cause irritation and infection.

According to researchers, the cause of eczema is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors: German said that genetics may play a role in whether someone has eczema or not, but that people those in certain occupations are also more likely to suffer from the disease, including those working in the health field, metal workers, hairdressers and food processing workers. But then, what is the link? According to the researchers, this would be an increased frequency of handwashing, or regular contact with detergents.

”  What happens if, either through a mutation or through occupational risks, the presence of lipids on the skin decreases? Asked German. “  The essence of this study is that, under normal and healthy conditions, bacteria do not penetrate the skin barrier. But under conditions of atopic dermatitis, or when the lipid levels are compatible with atopic dermatitis, then bacteria can penetrate the skin barrier – and it systematically takes nine days,  “he explained.

And since staph bacteria are immobile, they must multiply in number to grow through the protective outer layer of the skin, known as the stratum corneum (called SC, or stratum corneum), which is the most cellular layer. surface of the epidermis.

Researchers at the Thomas J. Watson School believe that bacteria do not grow around skin cells but through them. And that it is with lipid depletion (again, whether by genetics or by environmental factors and by occupational risks), the skin seems to become more vulnerable to bacterial invasion and infection of underlying skin tissue. ”  When we usually think of the oils in our skin, we think of fluid retention and hydration,  ” said Lipsky. ”  Now we are highlighting how important these lipids are for protection against these microorganisms that can enter and cause disease,  ” he added.

Although this study did not reveal all the secrets of atopic dermatitis, demonstrating that bacteria could be the cause rather than the result of the disease is a big step forward . Of course, more research is needed, and that is exactly what the study team plans to do.

” Now that we know bacteria can enter lipid-depleted skin, how do they affect the skin mechanically?” Wonders Lipsky. ” Does it make the skin weaker and more likely to crack?” Can we understand how bacteria move through the different layers of the skin? Continues Lipsky. And German added: ”  In scientific research, you get an answer and three more questions appear. We always have things to do  . ”

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