Viruses could be used to treat acne

08:00 Thu Sep 27 2012
Kimberly Gillan

There's hope for people plagued with acne with the news that scientists have discovered viruses that kill acne-causing bacteria.

After studying a group of viruses called phages, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh discovered they could kill the skin bacterium Propionibacterium acnes (P.acnes), and are hopeful it could be used in topical therapies to treat acne.

"There are two fairly obvious potential directions that could exploit this kind of research," said study author Professor Graham Hatfull in a media release.

"The first is the possibility of using the phages directly as a therapy for acne. The second is the opportunity to use phage-derived components for their activities."

Everyone has P.acnes bacteria on their skin, but its numbers increase at puberty, which can cause an inflammatory response that prompts acne.

Until now, antibiotics have been the normal treatment for acne, but with the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of P.acnes scientists are looking for better therapies.

The Pittsburgh scientists took phages and P.acnes bacteria samples from people with and without acne. When they sequenced the genomes, they found the phages carried a gene that made an enzyme called endolysin that killed bacteria.

Now Professor Hatfull thinks endolysin could be used in anti-acne topical treatments.

"This work has given us very useful information about the diversity of that set of enzymes and helps pave the way for thinking about potential applications," he said.

Dermatologist Dr Phillip Artemi, who is secretary of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, told MSN NZ that the treatment needs to be tested on humans before we can celebrate its successes.

"It's in the laboratory stage at the moment," he said.

"It's at the very basic stage of research — we still have to do large clinical trials on patients and we would have to get this into a form that can be delivered onto the skin."

While Dr Artemi said it's possible a cream with phages in it could help treat acne, it's not likely to cure it.

"You need to realise that acne is not just about this bacterium, there's hormones of adolesence, blockages of the skin pores and other factors," he said.

"If this came to fruition it would be a tool to use against acne but I don't think it will be a cure. It's interesting and it's food for thought and I look forward to seeing more in the coming years."

The research was published in the American Society for Microbiology journal.

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