New ‘Harmless’ Skin Virus May Combat Acne

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Acne affects around 80% of people aged 11-30, with that number rising to 90% of teenagers. The severity of the acne can vary from person to person but most grow out of it between the ages of 18 and 20.

However, some people do suffer from acne well into adulthood. For most people it is a manageable, if inconvenient, problem that can easily be treated, for 15% of people though, the acne can become even more sever and painful.

There is no known ‘cure’ for acne vulgaris (to give it the medical name), although treatments for the symptoms do exist in the forms of antiseptics and antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide and hormone therapy (although this is mainly reserved for female sufferers).

Recently though, experts at the University of California (UCLA), Los Angeles and the University of Pittsburgh have found 11 different versions of a phage (virus) that actively targets and kills the bacteria that cause acne.

Those working on the project hope to refine the process and see if they can find a way to convert the application of the virus into a therapy that will successfully treat acne. Professor Robert Modin, lead scientist of the work, said: “Harnessing a virus that naturally preys on the bacteria that causes pimples could offer a promising new tool against the physical and emotional scars of severe acne.”

The propionibacterium acnes are the bacteria that exist on skin and can infect hair follicles when they become clogged with dirt and an oil called sebum, which is naturally occurring in the body to help stop skin from drying out. Phages seem to counteract the infection of acne and unlike antibiotics which kill many types of bacteria, including ones beneficial to our body, phages can target a single type of bacteria, which makes it a much better treatment for the skin condition.

Most of the acne treatments available can have side effects, whether it results in the drying out of the skin or the destruction of ‘good’ bacteria; however it seems that this new treatment could offer substantially less side effects through tailored therapy.

Hermione Lawson, of the British Skin Foundation, said: “This news is very exciting. Acne is a common condition that affects up to eight in 10 individuals [aged] between 11 and 30 in the UK, and at present there is no ‘cure’ for the skin disease.”

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