Ditch the itch – using bacteria to combat eczema flareups

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
  • Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, currently has no cure
  • Results of a recent study could lead to a new treatment to improve the condition
  • Researchers identified a bacterium that inhibits the spread of eczema

Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a condition that causes dry, flaky and itchy skin, and research has shown that the condition dramatically lowers quality of life. 

While some children are lucky enough to outgrow the condition, there is no known cure for eczema. The results of a new study could, however, open the way to a new treatment for atopic dermatitis. 

Researchers at the University of California’s Department of Dermatology conducted a double-blinded clinical trial to test how a strain of bacteria they identified in healthy human skin may treat people suffering from eczema. 

Different types of skin bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a type of bacteria found on the skin of people with eczema, which tends to worsen the condition by promoting inflammation. Staphylococcus hominis A9 (ShA9) is a bacterium that lives on healthy skin – and it is this bacterium the researchers isolated for the purpose of the study.

A group of 54 adults with eczema (with S. aureus present on their skin) took part in the trial for one week, during which they had ShA9 bacteria applied to their skin.

"The main question we wanted to answer was if this was safe. This was a safety study," said Richard Gallo, Professor of Dermatology and chair of the Department of Dermatology at the University of California. 

"We found exactly what we hoped to find. The eczema of participants who received the bacterial treatment improved and there were no adverse events.”

One strain of bacteria – out of 8 000 – works for eczema

Finding this unique strain of bacteria was quite taxing as the team had to screen more than 8 000 variants to identify a strain that would inhibit the growth of the bacteria that exacerbates eczema. 

“This research is a unique approach to targeting the harmful Staphylococcal aureus on atopic dermatitis skin with beneficial bacteria,” said study author Donald Leung. 

“It's our hope this will help patients with eczema rid their skin of the harmful bacteria causing the inflammation. Future studies will determine if this new cream can be used for long periods of time to reduce the severity of eczema and improve the patient's quality of life.”

Image credit: Unsplash

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
32% - 9432 votes
68% - 19959 votes