Harness ‘safe’ skin virus to fight acne

Experts have isolated a ‘harmless’ skin virus which could help treat certain kinds of Acne

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Pittsburgh have found ‘harmless’ viruses living on the skin that target Propionibacterium acnes. They are testing them to see if they can be used as a treatment for acne. Professor Robert Modlin is the lead scientist on the current work at UCLA: “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.” (bbc.co.uk)

Acne occurs when the hair follicles in the skin become blocked with a substance called sebum. The skin produces sebum to prevent itself from drying out, but sometimes it produces too much. Once blocked, the follicles can then become infected by a bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes. These bacteria usually live harmlessly on the skin, but when they infect blocked hair follicles this leads to inflammation, which causes acne spots to appear.

There are 11 different viruses, or phages, that attack acne bacteria. Scientists have found that they all share a lot of the same genetic material, and that they also share some important key features. All of the viruses have a gene that makes a specific protein, called endolysin. It is thought that endolysin attacks acne bacteria by breaking down their cell walls. 

Graham Hatfull, co-author of the study at the University of Pittsburgh, says that “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.” (wtvr.com)

It is hoped that this discovery could lead to a new treatment for acne sufferers, one that has fewer side effects and can target only acne bacteria, leaving ‘good’ bacteria untouched. Whether the phages themselves will be used or whether scientists will use them to produce endolysin in the treatment of acne remains to be seen, but either solution would provide a welcome relief for acne sufferers. 

Acne is a problem that many of us suffer - in fact 8 out of 10 people aged 11-30 are affected by it. There is no known cure, but at the moment it is usually treated with antibiotics. 

Other Acne treatments

The most effective acne treatments are antibiotics like accutane or roaccutane. These can only be prescribed by a doctor and while extremely effective can have side effects. 

There are also many treatments which will treat the symptoms, but not prevent further acne outbreaks such as Regenlite laser or skin peels.

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