How To Control Eczema? With Fierce Bacterial Competition

Despite appearing normal in between flareups, the skin of eczema patients is chock-full of ‘opportunistic pathogens’ but deficient in helpful bacteria.

AsianScientist (July 26, 2016) – We may not realize this, but we are not alone. In fact, our bodies harbor trillions of microbes, which inhabit and interact with the human body. In recent decades, this microbiome has become increasingly important to the way we understand various conditions and diseases, including eczema.

Eczema is a skin condition that affects one in five people, causing patients to suffer bouts of scaly, itchy rashes that flare up and clear in repeated cycles. Research on the skin’s microbiome—the community of highly diverse microorganisms that live on the skin—has so far focused on microbial make-up of the skin during flare periods. Much less understood, however, is the skin’s microbiome in between these flare periods, which might provide clues to how such flares are triggered in the first place.

To address this gap in research, project leader Dr. John Common from the Institute of Medical Biology in Singapore and colleagues analyzed the genetic material of all microbes found on the skin in between flares, allowing them to understand the relative populations of various bacteria, viruses, and other unicellular life present. They then compared this data to samples collected from individuals without eczema.

Despite looking similar, the skin of eczema patients in between flares was found to be different from that of non-eczema individuals in two major ways. While flare periods have been associated with large populations of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, Common and his team found that S. aureus was largely missing on the skin between flares. Instead, they found an over-representation of what they termed ‘opportunistic pathogens,’ many of which were able to inhibit an S. aureus colonization. This finding suggests how bacterial competition may help in regulating the repeated cycles of flares.

Eczema skin in between flares was also found to have less ‘helpful’ bacteria when compared to normal skin. These ‘helpful’ strains have antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties, which may explain a lack of protection to such outbreaks in eczema patients.

These findings, published in Nature Microbiology, highlight the importance of microbial activity in our skin and may lead to new treatments for eczema. Such therapies may one day provide an alternative to steroidal creams, which can thin the skin.

“Pre- or pro-biotic treatments could potentially restore microbial balance and serve as safe and effective long term alternatives,” Common told Asian Scientist Magazine.

“Furthermore, an alternative and complementary approach to using a continuum of skin health treatments, such as emollients and moisturizers, can help promote a happy skin microbiome and stable non-flare disease state.”

The article can be found at: Chng et al. (2016) Whole Metagenome Profiling Reveals Skin Microbiome-Dependent Susceptibility to Atopic Dermatitis Flare.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Asian Scientist or its staff.

Daniel is a psychology major at Yale-NUS college. When he was seven he discovered the ancient tusk of a wooly mammoth. After those four inches of backbreaking excavation, he had wasted no time in telling everyone else at the playground about his precious find—until his elder brother cruelly revealed the serial numbers on the standard-issue PVC pipe. He spends the rest of his days trying to deal with this traumatic setback with tai chi, writing, and listening to Carole King.

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