Scientists believe they may have discovered a new way to treat skin infections in people who suffer from the most common form of eczema. They say a skin cream that containing infection-fighting substances missing in the patients' own skin could be an effective treatment in the future.
Atopic dermatitis is a form of eczema usually associated with asthma and allergies. The condition afflicts children and adults and is thought to run in families. Like psoriasis, the disease is characterized by a defective skin barrier, which causes itchy, red, and swollen skin. About 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis are likely to suffer from skin infections caused by bacteria and viruses.
Studies show substances in the skin called peptides play a key role in fighting infections. Now, researchers from the National Jewish Medical and Research Center and elsewhere theorized this difference could be due to a lack of peptides in the skin of those with atopic dermatitis. They studied skin samples from three groups -- 6 healthy adults, 8 atopic dermatitis patients, and 11 psoriasis patients. They analyzed the samples for the presence of infection-fighting peptides, which generally develop naturally in response to skin infections.
As suspected, the healthy volunteers showed little or no evidence of the peptides because their skin had not been afflicted with infections. The psoriasis patients showed high levels of the peptides, indicating their damaged skin was being afflicted with infections and effectively fighting them off. However, the atopic dermatitis patients had levels of peptides similar to the healthy volunteers, suggesting their skin was not capable of making the substances required to fight off infections.
Of particular significance was the fact that the level of peptides in the psoriasis skin was sufficient to fight off the Staphylococcus aureus infection, while the level in the atopic dermatitis skin was not. S. aureus is known as a chief cause of skin infections in the latter group.
According to the investigators, a cream containing these infection-fighting peptides could help clear up S. aureus and other infections in atopic dermatitis patients.
SOURCE: New England Journal of Medicine, 2002;347:1151-1160