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Eczema therapy hopes raised by study of sun’s effects on skin

June 2017: Exposure to sunlight releases a compound from the skin that can alleviate symptoms of eczema

The molecule – called nitric oxide – works by dampening inflammation, which causes the itchy skin lesions associated with the condition. Scientists say their findings pave the way for new therapies that mimic the effects of the sun’s rays. These could eventually help patients avoid light therapy, which can have damaging side effects on the skin, including raising cancer risk. Tests on healthy volunteers found that exposing a small patch of skin to UV light triggers nitric oxide to be released into the blood stream.

 

Further lab studies found that the chemical activates specialised immune cells called regulatory T cells, which act to dampen ongoing inflammation. In patients with eczema, the number of these cells in their blood following light therapy directly correlates with disease improvement, the researchers at the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research found. Researchers say their findings could lead to new therapies for eczema, which affects around one in five children and one in 20 adults in the UK. People with severe eczema are often prescribed tanning lamps to help manage their symptoms, but these can cause skin burning, accelerated aging and increased risk of cancer. The study is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

 

Lead researcher Dr Anne Astier, of the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Our findings suggest that nitric oxide has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and could offer an alternative drug target for people with eczema.”

 

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