Research published by The University of Edinburgh points towards the possibility of a natural cure for atopic dermatitis (AD), more commonly known as eczema.
Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that triggers uncomfortably persistent itching, causing a disruption to the skin’s critical barrier function and an increased susceptibility to infection.
Research led by Dr Donald J Davidson at The University of Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Inflammation Research shows that a naturally skin-produced antimicrobial substance called human beta-defensin 2 (hBD2) may reduce susceptibility to bacterial infections.
Dr Davidson spoke to The Student about his research and subsequent repercussions. “There are two strategies we are pursuing, assuming the work gets funded. The first is to develop new shorter, modified and stable, chemically-synthesised versions of hBD2 that retain skin barrier-protecting function and might be applied in a therapeutic form.
“The second approach will be to try to understand why AD skin doesn’t respond to injury and inflammation by producing hBD2 in the same way that healthy skin does, then try to develop strategies to circumvent that blockage and instruct AD skin cells to make more hBD2.
“However, our work is still at an early stage and we have some way to go in understanding the underlying biological mechanisms before possible therapies could become a reality.”
Davidson also expressed his optimism that his research could be used to aid the search for cures of other skin diseases as well.
“Interestingly, in contrast to AD, psoriatic skin produces high levels of hBD2 and other natural antimicrobial/host defence peptides. That said, we believe that the capacity of hBD2 to block barrier damage by harmful proteases, whether made by AD-associated bacteria, as detailed in our new paper, or, in other diseases, by the body’s own cells, has important and possible therapeutic potential in other diseases, not just restricted to the skin,” Dr Davidson told The Student.
Dr Richard Weller, a Senior Lecturer in Dermatology at the University of Edinburgh, said to The Student: “Eczema is a disease of our times and is incredibly common.
“It is very exciting to think there could be a way of recruiting the body’s natural defence systems to help us tackle a condition that has such a huge impact on people.”
Image: Nate Steiner