Scientists Discover Origins of Eczema and Psoriasis

Woman scratching eczema on hand
Researchers discovered the source of eczema.

Research published in Science has uncovered the developmental origins of inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis.

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In the study, researchers from Newcastle University, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Kings College London, identified that developing skin cells and skin cells in eczema and psoriasis patients shared similar molecular pathways. According to the authors, these findings hold the potential for innovative drug treatments to address the diseases. Additionally, this work advances the scientific understanding of inflammatory conditions, which could lead to new research for other inflammatory diseases.

As the article states, inflammatory diseases are poorly understood. They lack research, therefore their causes and cures are unknown and treatments merely focus on alleviating the symptoms. As such, this study aimed to help facilitate the development of inflammatory skin disease treatments more efficiently and effectively.

As Newcastle University explained, to learn how skin forms and how this relates to adult health and disease, the researchers studied cells from developing skin, compared with biopsies from healthy adults and eczema and psoriasis patients. Using single-cell technology and machine learning, the team analyzed more than half a million individual skin cells to see which genes were switched on in each cell. This allowed the researchers to identify what each cell does and how the cells “communicate” to each other. To their surprise, the diseased skin cells shared many of the same cellular mechanisms as developing skin cells.

Previously: Shiseido Uncovers IL-8 Skin Damage, Points to Lymphatic Skin Care Approach

While the study was focused on inflammatory skin disease, researchers noted there is potential that other inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease could be triggered in the same way. Having uncovered how healthy skin tissue develops and revealed the cells that are present in adult skin, this work also has implications for regenerative medicine, especially for burn victims.

Based on this work, the researchers created a detailed map of the skin as part of the global Human Cell Atlas effort to map every cell type in the human body. The comprehensive resource of developing and adult skin will become a valuable resource for scientists worldwide, providing a template for regenerative medicine to help researchers grow skin the lab more effectively, and supporting the further investigation of these and other diseases, for potential treatment. 

Professor Muzlifah Haniffa, co-senior author from Newcastle University and associate faculty at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “This Skin Cell Atlas reveals specific molecular signals sent by healthy developing skin to summon immune cells and form a protective layer. We were amazed to see that eczema and psoriasis skin cells were sending the same molecular signals, which could over activate immune cells and cause the disease. This had never been seen before."

He added, "Discovering that developing cell pathways re-emerge is a huge leap in our understanding of inflammatory skin disease and offers new routes for finding treatments.”

Read the full study in Science.

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