Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stopping that itch!

Ever had an itch that drives you mad? Well, you're definitely not alone with over 200,000 adult Australians self reporting that they have dermatitis, and the rate in children being even higher: in the US the rates are 17 percent of children and about six percent of adults!

Dermatitis, or eczema, is a skin condition that has irritated humans ever since we became mobile and wore any sort of clothes or jewelery, or started to live in huts or houses. But we still don't know what causes it: we have lots of ideas on how to treat it - steroids by mouth and definitely on the skin, plus plenty of moisturizer and the sage words such as, "Avoid contact with what is irritating you", which, as you can imagine, is not very successful with young children who love to play in sandpits and run around on the grass!

But scientists are making tiny steps of progress. Up until recently, the cornerstone of our understanding was that with Dermatitis, there was a failure of the Dermis - the outer layer of the skin - to function correctly, thus allowing pollens and pollutants to get through the body's defenses and cause inflammation and irritation. But it may be that there is a second layer of defense that is also at fault, and in conjunction with a defective dermis, allows the cascade of problems that is dermatitis, to start. This second layer of defense is known as the Tight Junctions, and it's these junctions that hold the cells together. According to Lisa Beck, M.D., lead study author and associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "Our findings challenge the belief that the top layer of the skin or stratum corneum is the sole barrier structure: It suggests that both the stratum corneum and tight junctions need to be defective to jumpstart the disease."They've even discovered the protein that is responsible for these Tight Junctions, so the promise of a new line of treatment for Dermatitis is becoming tantalizingly close.

Meanwhile, for those with contact dermatitis caused by Nickel - a surprisingly common allergy as Nickel is found in much personal jewelry - there is hope from the Nano-Tech experts. Scientists at Brigham and Women's Hospital  report a new approach to preventing the common skin allergy by using Nano-particles of Sodium to form a barrier, and to act as a sort of chemical sponge to soak up the nickle atoms released from the offending jewelry. The good news is that the particles they used were of a size that cannot be absorbed into the body: "All results suggest that nanoparticles can effectively prevent the penetration of nickel into the skin, and may therefore abrogate nickel-induced contact dermatitis," the team concluded.

Here's to an itch free future!
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