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Scope 65 - Skin microbes: The key to halting the allergic march?

4 May 2018

Atopic dermatitis (eczema or AD) is one of the first allergic conditions infants and young children develop, and is one of the first steps taken on the ‘allergic march’: a trend of escalating allergy symptoms that worsen as we age. By preventing the initial development of eczema through the monitoring and control of skin microbes during childhood, can we potentially halt the allergic march before it begins?

“Absolutely,” says Professor Graham Le Gros. “Our immune system doesn’t exist by itself, it exists in close connection with the microbiota around our body. The skin microbiota plays a clear role in the initiation of allergic responses.

“Understanding this relationship in more detail could lead to better ways of stopping the development of allergic diseases like eczema and food allergy, preventing the allergic march in individuals.”

Dr Karmella Naidoo has been working at the Malaghan Institute answering this very question. The subject of her recently completed PhD, during which Dr Naidoo established models of AD in mice to study the allergic march in depth.

“Atopic dermatitis patients have a completely different microbiota on the skin compared to healthy individuals,” says Dr Naidoo. “We know that certain species
of bacteria, in particular Staphylococcal strains, colonise most of the skin of an individual with atopic dermatitis.

“By putting a stop to allergic sensitisation early on, there’s a good chance we’ll be able to halt the allergic march before it begins. In that, we are hypothesising that skin microbes will have a large role to play and are researching them intensively.”