SAN FRANCISCO, March 7 (Xinhua) -- Researchers have found a new way to identify the lipids, or fats found in the skin of people who have atopic dermatitis.
The findings were announced in the newly published British Journal of Dermatology.
Researchers have also discovered a link between this debilitating skin problem, altered lipid profiles and some types of bacterial infections such as taphylococcus aureus, or a staph infection.
With the findings, the new therapies will be possible for millions of people with atopic dermatitis, which is one of the most common forms of eczema.
Researchers believe that the staph infections may both lead to atopic dermatitis problems and make people more prone to further infections -- a cycle of skin inflammation that can disrupt the skin microbiome and be one component of this disease that has been so resistant to long-term treatment.
"For the first time we will be able to identify the individual lipids that may be needed to help someone's skin return to health. This may be of value not only to patients with atopic dermatitis or other skin diseases, but even for normal individuals who simply want their skin to be more healthy, well hydrated and resistant to aging," said Arup Indra, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University (OSU) and lead author of the study.
Lipids, or fats, are a vital part of healthy skin, serving almost as a "blanket" to help protect its integrity. As part of the innate immune system, they can also act as a natural barrier to infection; when properly balanced and healthy, they can help prevent skin cancer.
Skin lipids include ceramides, free fatty acids, cholesterol and triglycerides. When these lipids are not available in the right type or amount, skin inflammation can occur.
In atopic dermatitis patients, this can range from mild, intermittent rashes to severe, almost continual skin problems over significant portions of a person's body. Some amount of atopic dermatitis is common in infants, but in some people it's a lifelong issue.
Steroid drugs, either topical or systemic, have been one of the few ways to treat atopic dermatitis, but they have a wide range of side effects that make long-term treatment a concern. Moisturizing creams, lotions, special diets and other approaches have shown limited success.
With the new technology as a result of the study, researchers can identify a person's individual skin lipid profile with some simple tests.
A type of tape has been developed that can pull some lipids off a person's skin, allow testing of them with the use of a mass spectrometer, and have the results compared to the skin lipid profiles of generally healthy patients.
With this information, researchers in the future should be able to determine quite specifically what lipids are deficient, and develop topical compounds to replace them -- either individually, or with compounds that could aid groups of people who share similar lipid profiles.
"These findings about altered lipid profiles and the link to bacterial infections could be a breakthrough to ultimately help many people who struggle with atopic dermatitis and related skin problems," Indra was quoted as saying in a news release from OSU on Tuesday.
Researchers hope to interrupt the cycle of skin inflammation and staph infections through the use of personalized lipid-replacing compounds, and create a new, promising approach to therapy.
"This has the potential to remove any guess work that might have existed in the past regarding the correct combination of lipids required to improve skin health," Indra said, "and will help restore to people's skin the right quantity and type of lipids they need."