“There is so much that is still unknown about chronic, inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, as well as how to better repair skin wounds and injuries,” says William C. Gause, director of i3D.
“Most current acne treatments focus largely on eradicating existing acne lesions and preventing new ones,” Gause said. “The research initiative that we are set to launch will look at the underlying causes.”
But sometimes the skin’s immune responses are the problem. While they can ward off microorganisms, they can also set off a chain of reactions that result in chronic inflammation.
Acne is said to affect nearly 80 percent of teens and young adults. It can persist well into adulthood, spreading lesions on the cheeks, forehead, chin, back and chest that can take stubborn hold and leave significant scarring.
Until recently, it was thought that inflammation resulted from the presence of acne. Now there is evidence that inflammation is present throughout the lifespan of the acne lesion and often precedes its development.
Current acne treatments can be highly effective; and one of these, isotretinonin, can even lead to a cure for some. But the primary oral treatments – isotretinonin (formerly marketed as Accutane), hormone therapy in the form of oral contraceptives, and antibiotics – all have significant associated side effects. Laser and light technology may provide a cure in the future, but there are currently no anticipated alternative drugs in the pipeline.
Gause himself directs a research lab at New Jersey Medical School’s Center for Immunity and Inflammation within Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. “Dysfunction of the immune system is increasingly recognized as contributing to a broad spectrum of infectious and noninfectious diseases,” he explains. He has published his research in premier journals and has been interviewed by Scientific American on the role of helminth worms (small parasites that live in human intestines, especially in the developing world) in protecting the body from harmful inflammation.
“When these parasites migrate through tissue, they can cause considerable damage by forcing themselves through cells and secreting damaging enzymes,” he says. “But helminth infection also triggers important wound healing components, which help the body to tolerate the parasite. It is these triggers produced by the parasites that we are interested in.”
Gause says that scientists have recently identified and cloned specific parasitic proteins that may act as triggers. Just as soil bacteria have been mined for antibiotics, helminth parasites are now being tested for expression of specific molecules that may help control harmful inflammation and promote wound healing. His laboratory is engaged in testing these recently discovered products, including their efficacy in acne treatments.
The institute is currently planning a fall 2016 symposium on “barrier inflammation” to share new findings in how immunity contributes to healthy and diseased, or damaged, skin and mucosal tissues, including those in the lungs and intestines.