Written By Kevin Kerfoot / Reviewed By Ray Spotts
Eczema - also known as atopic dermatitis - causes the skin's protective barrier to break down and makes it more vulnerable to foreign entities that can cause itching, inflammation, dryness and further degradation of the skin's protective barrier. Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI) have identified a key enzyme that contributes to eczema, which may lead to better treatment.
"The symptoms people often experience with eczema make them more likely to avoid going outside their homes or to work," says the study's senior author, Dr. David Granville, a professor in UBC's faculty of medicine and researcher at VCHRI. "It is estimated that the annual cost of eczema in North America is over $5.5 billion because of how it impacts people's health and well-being."
Eczema And Allergens
In the study - published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology - research reveals that the Granzyme B enzyme is positively correlated with itchiness and disease severity in eczema. Granzyme B weakens the skin barrier by cleaving through the proteins holding cells together making it easier for allergens to penetrate across.
"Between cells in our skin are proteins that anchor them tightly together," Granville says. "In some inflammatory diseases, such as eczema, Granzyme B is secreted by cells and eats away at those proteins, causing these bonds to weaken and the skin to become further inflamed and itchy."
By knocking out Granzyme B with genetic modification - or inhibiting it with a topical gel - the researchers learned they could prevent it from damaging the skin barrier and significantly reduce the severity of atopic dermatitis.
"Previous work had suggested that Granzyme B levels correlate with the degree of itchiness and disease severity in patients with atopic dermatitis; however, there was no evidence that this enzyme played any causative role," Granville continued. "Our study provides evidence that topical drugs targeting Granzyme B could be used to treat patients with eczema and other forms of dermatitis."
Atopic dermatitis – or AD - typically follows an itch-scratch cycle in which itchiness is followed by scratching and more itchiness. This cycle usually occurs during flare-ups, which can appear anytime, and sometimes weeks, months or years apart.
Approximately 15 to 20 percent of Canadians live with some form of AD, and among Canadian children under the age of five, AD affects between 10 to 15 percent. Of those, around 40 percent will experience symptoms of the disease for the rest of their lives.
Eczema And Other Inflammatory Conditions
AD is also associated with an increased risk of developing a host of other inflammatory conditions, including food allergies, asthma and allergic rhinitis. "Atopic dermatitis is the leading non-fatal health burden attributable to skin diseases," added Dr. Chris Turner, the study's lead author and former UBC postdoctoral fellow in Granville's laboratory.
The researchers see great promise in this line of research and are pursuing further clinical trials into Granzyme B and Granzyme B inhibitors.
Corticosteroid creams are a common treatment for individuals with AD who experience more severe itching and rashes. However, these can thin the skin when used over a prolonged period of time, which can make skin more prone to damage and infection.
A gel or cream that stops or limits Granzyme B, thereby reducing the severity of AD, could be a safer and more effective long-term treatment. "A gel or cream that blocks Granzyme B could have fewer if any side-effects and circumvent the itch-scratch cycle, making flare-ups less pronounced," says Turner
Eczema And Treating Chronic Itch
Itching can be relieved by a number of drugs that are available on the market. These drugs, however, are largely ineffective when it comes to the unrelenting and debilitating urge to scratch experienced by patients suffering from skin, kidney or liver diseases.
This chronic condition, which affects about 10 percent of the population, is currently treated with antidepressants or immune suppressants. Originally developed to treat other diseases, these drugs often fail to provide the desired relief or come with severe side effects.
Researchers at the University of Zurich have discovered a new approach that suppresses itch. In a series of experiments in mice and dogs they successfully alleviated different forms of acute as well as chronic itch.
For the latter, current treatment options are very limited. Hanns Ulrich Zeilhofer, professor at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Zurich, and his research group discovered a new way to alleviate itch.
Eczema And Experimental Drugs
They used an experimental drug to boost the effect of specific neurons in the spine that prevent itch signals from being relayed to the brain. These receptors are part of a large group of receptors that is activated by the amino acid transmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. It is with these GABA receptors that for example benzodiazepines, a class of drugs used to treat insomnia, anxiety or epilepsy, interact.
The experimental drug used by the researchers in their study, which was originally developed as a drug for anxiety, interacts with the two identified receptors. In their experiments, the pharmacologists were able to show that it not only suppresses acute itch, but is also effective against chronic itch.
Mice that were administered with the drug scratched themselves less often, and their skin changes healed significantly quicker than in animals that were given a placebo. The same itch-suppressant effect was also observed in tests with dogs carried out by the researchers in cooperation with the University of Zurich's Veterinary Department.
Moreover, the drug did not cause obvious undesired side effects. "We are confident that the substance we've tested will also be effective in humans,” Zeilhofer says.
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With over 30 years of writing and editing experience for newspapers, magazines and corporate communications, Kevin Kerfoot writes about natural health, nutrition, skincare and oral hygiene for Trusted Health Products’ natural health blog and newsletters.
Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.