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A new vaccine could wipe out acne

Acne vulgaris, or simply acne, is a skin condition that affects most, if not all, adolescents.

It can sometimes persist into adulthood. Also, scarring from acne can last for a long time.

Research has shown that persistent acne not only causes discomfort, but also psychological distress; people become self-aware about their appearance and worry how this may affect their social relationships.

Some of the most common treatments for acne include antibiotics and retinoids, which are a type of chemical compound that help maintain skin health and appearance.

However, researchers explain that these traditional treatments are not always effective, and they can cause further undesirable effects — the least severe of which include dry skin and irritation.

“Current treatment options are often not effective or tolerable for many of the 85 percent of adolescents and more than 40 million adults in the United States who suffer from this multi-factorial cutaneous inflammatory condition,” explains researcher Chun-Ming Huang, at the University of California, San Diego.

“New, safe, and efficient therapies are sorely needed,” he adds. This is exactly what he and his team have recently been working toward.

A vaccine to target acne toxins?

In a new study — whose findings now feature in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology — Huang and colleagues explain their process in developing an effective and safe vaccine to treat acne.

The researchers were able to establish — for the first time ever — that they could fight the toxin secreted by the bacteria involved in acneiform eruptions with a dedicated antibody. This method, they add, also helped reduce acne-related inflammation.

As they note in their paper, a bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes (commonly referred to as Cutibacterium acnes) produces a toxin called the Christie-Atkins-Munch-Peterson (CAMP) factor. The CAMP factor, they show, is largely responsible for inflammation in acne lesions.

Working both with a mouse model and skin cells collected from humans, the researchers tested the effectiveness of a set of monoclonal antibodies — a type of immune cell — against the CAMP factor.

So far, the researchers’ efforts have shown promising results, and the antibodies proved effective against the inflammation-inducing properties of the toxin.

“Once validated by a large-scale clinical trial,” Huang explains, “the potential impact of our findings is huge for the hundreds of millions of individuals suffering from acne vulgaris.”

‘An interesting avenue to explore’

In an editorial published alongside the study paper, Emmanuel Contassot — from the University of Zürich in Switzerland — explains how vaccines for acne could be safer and more effective than existing treatments.

Such vaccines, he writes, would “[address] an unmet medical need.” At the same time, he cautions that “acne immunotherapies that target P. acnes-derived factors have to be cautiously designed to avoid unwanted disturbance of the microbiome that guarantees skin homeostasis [self-regulation].”

In other words, the vaccines would have to ensure that bacterial equilibrium on the skin is not affected, since some bacterial strands actually help protect the skin’s overall health. Still, he encourages further efforts to create better, more targeted treatments for acne.

Whether or not CAMP factor-targeted vaccines will impact multiple P. acnes subtypes and other commensals has to be determined, but acne immunotherapy presents an interesting avenue to explore nonetheless.”

Emmanuel Contassot

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