BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Thursday, 11 January, 2001, 01:19 GMT
Vaccine 'switches off' psoriasis
Vaccine could offer hope for patients with psoriasis
Vaccine could offer hope for patients with psoriasis
A vaccine which "switches off" part of the immune system could provide a treatment for a debilitating skin condition.

In tests, psoriasis disappeared in a quarter of cases and half saw an improvement. Benefits lasted for 18 months.

Psoriasis is a disfiguring genetic condition, which affects at least one in 50 people in the UK, making it as common as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

It is thought to be caused by a malfunctioning of the immune system, which causes accelerated growth of skin cells.

These cells pile up on the surface of the skin when the body cannot shed them fast enough, leading to unsightly patches of raised red skin covered by a flaky white build-up.

The condition tends to affect people first in their twenties, though people can carry the gene and not suffer from the condition.

Treatment can currently either be with a drugs or with a cream.

Psoriasis is rarely fatal, but the psychological damage people can suffer because of the disfigurement can have a devastating effect on their lives.

It can flare up because of stress or severe throat infections.

Vaccine hope

The vaccine, developed in New Zealand appears to "turn off" part of the immune system.

The researchers say that a single shot can offer long-lasting protection.

The vaccine was tested on 24 patients with psoriasis. Larger trials are now being carried out.

Researchers carried out the trial after tests of an anti-leprosy virus in India had failed to cure leprosy, but had cleared up one patient's psoriasis

That vaccine contained microscopic organisms called Myobacterium vaccae which had been killed using heat treatment.

The New Zealand team used the same preparation in their vaccine.

Dr James Watson, the Auckland researcher who led the trial, said most research concentrated on trying to find the proteins which trigger the disease.

Instead his team had concentrated on changing the response of the immune system.

Somehow the vaccine reprograms the immune system, turning off cells that attack the skin

Dr James Watson
Lead researcher

Dr Watson said though the vaccine worked, they did not know why it had been successful in treating psoriasis.

"Somehow the vaccine reprograms the immune system, turning off cells that attack the skin."

He added that trials on animals had shown that the vaccine could be modified to be effective against other autoimmune diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

'Benefit to patients'

Christopher Griffiths, professor of dermatology at Hope Hospital, Salford in Greater Manchester said a vaccine would benefit psoriasis patients.

He said: "The treatments we have for severe psoriasis sufferers sometimes have quite significant side effects and have to be given on a regular long-term basis.

"If this is given once and it lasts for a year, year and a half, it's probably going to be an advantage."

He predicted that psoriasis may be shown to be several similar conditions, with different treatments suiting the various forms.

The study is published in New Scientist.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

02 Aug 00 | Health
Skin drug helps smokers
13 Dec 99 | Health
Skin treatment `rip-off'
16 Jun 98 | Latest News
Zulu banana skin secret hits UK
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories