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Last Updated: Monday, 20 March 2006, 01:18 GMT
New eczema treatments on horizon
Eczema sufferer
Some people require specialist treatment for eczema
New ways to treat skin conditions which affect millions of people could be on the way after a scientific discovery.

Experts led by the University of Dundee have discovered the gene which causes dry skin, leading to eczema and asthma.

The gene produces the protein filaggrin, which helps the skin form a protective outer barrier.

Experts hope to use the discovery for more effective therapies to tackle the root causes of the conditions, rather than simply treating the symptoms.

At the moment the only treatment is through the use of emollients and ointments or anti-inflammatory drugs.

If you imagine the disease as a burning building, up until now we've just been throwing buckets of water on the roof
Prof McLean
University of Dundee

The research, to be published in the journal Nature Genetics, was undertaken with collaborators in Glasgow, Dublin, Seattle and Copenhagen.

Filaggrin, abundant in the outermost layers of the skin, keeps bacteria and viruses out while keeping water in to prevent the skin from drying.

Reduction or absence of the protein leads to dry and flaky skin.

Professor Irwin McLean, of Dundee University's human genetics department, said the elusive gene had been known about for 20 years or more but was difficult to analyse.

'New era'

"It was a really tough project, but because we had experience in this type of gene, we managed to crack it where others had failed," he said.

"We see this as the dawn of a new era in the understanding and treatment of eczema and the type of asthma that goes with eczema as well.

"If you imagine the disease as a burning building, up until now we've just been throwing buckets of water on the roof.

Jade Williamson
I was constantly at the hospital every day getting bandages from head to toe
Jade Williamson
Chronic eczema sufferer

"But now we know exactly where the fire is underneath and we can put the hoses in there and hopefully tackle the cause of the problem properly."

Experts said new treatments from the discovery could take some time to come to fruition.

Jade Williamson, from Rosyth in Fife, said the discovery could lead to her having a complete life for the first time.

The 22-year-old fitness student developed what was first thought to be nappy rash when she was six months old, but the condition later grew into chronic eczema.

She said: "I was constantly at the hospital every day getting bandages from head to toe.

"All you could see was my eyes, my nose and my mouth. It was distressing when I was younger."

Gene mutation

Ms Williamson said the problem sometimes became stressful when she was younger, adding: "When my skin was bad I did tend to close myself in my room and stay away."

She said that living with the condition brought a constant regime of moisturising and washing.

The study, which also involved Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Dublin, showed that about 10% of Europeans carry a mutation that switches off the filaggrin gene, causing a very common dry, scaly skin condition known as ichthyosis vulgaris.

About five million people in the UK alone make only half of the normal amount of filaggrin protein and have a milder form of the condition, while 120,000 people in the UK have no filaggrin protein and often require specialist treatment.

More than one million people are predicted to have the severe form of the condition worldwide.

Your comments:

I've had eczema and asthma for over 25 years (since the age of 5) and I had Locoid creams and Ventolin inhalers to combat it. Over 25 years this cost a great deal, was a massive hassle, and turned out to be totally unnecessary. When I was 30, I discovered I was allergic to cows milk, and all along it was the milk, cream, butter, cheese, lactose derived from cows which caused my eczema, asthma, and runny nose. I urge everyone with asthma and eczema to at least try completely giving up cows milk for a few weeks to see if it helps (goats milk is a great alternative!) -- because it's completely changed my life. Why, oh why, oh why my doctors never did an allergy test at any point between the age of 5 and 30, I will never know.
Rez Wrigley, England

This is the first hopeful piece of information that I have had in a long time. As a sufferer for more than half a century, I do hope that the steps between this amazing discovery and the development of treatments will not be too long in bringing relief to all sufferers.
Mrs J Harbidge, Burnley England

My daughter's distressing eczema was met with sympathy by various GPs, but also with limited and contradictory advice on so-called treatments for it. Why is this?
Cecilia, London

I was born with eczema and developed asthma and severe hayfever later in life. I did not out grow this as most children do and still suffer to this day, although not as severely. I have developed psoriasis in my late teens that affected my hair the result of which was clumps of hair would come out if I tried to scrub the psoriasis off my scalp. It was also worse the more stressed out I got. I have tried numerous "solutions" from Doctors over the years without any success and welcome this news as it may end the suffering of millions of people worldwide who have these ailments. I am 3 months pregnant and hope my baby does not inherit this condition from me.
Krissie Allon, Andover, Hampshire

I had eczema since early childhood. In my mid-teens the eczema subsided and psoriasis developed. Well do I recall the embarrassment of having scabs on my hands, elbows, knees. Psoriasis is, for me, a more endurable side of the disorder. The article makes a valid point about the treatments being more symptomatic than curative. I have used emolients,hydro-cortizone creams etc extensively. Interestingly, the most effective so far was a Chinese herbal cream prescribed during a consultation at one herbalist surgery. His diagnosis was centred on my blood being 'too hot' and maybe I had a degree of food poisoning, he recommended I avoid foods of fungal or tomato type. However much truth there may be in that is open to question. Still, other GP's have given no more than a cursory look at my condition and then quickly tore off a prescription for the emolio-corti-hydratable skin ointment described previously. I welcome any real progress medicine may make towards a sure treatment.
Charles, Helsinki,Finland

Would this relate in any way at all to an advance in the treatment of Psoriasis?
Patrick, Padstow, Cornwall, UK.

This sounds like a breakthrough. Having suffered from eczema for most of my life I look forward to something that will treat the cause rather than the symptoms.
Carol Maclean, Blantyre, South Lanarkshire

This breakthrough could literally change my life, I am now 32 and have had eczema like jade's since a young child. Although the eczema on my face and body has cleared up now, I still suffer with chronic eczema on my hands, and have to put extremely strong steroid creams on them to control it. On occasions my hands have been so bad that I have had to wear cotton gloves all day, as they are covered in weeping open sores, and it is impossible not to scratch the eczema, as the eczema itch can be like your skin is crawling, and when you have scratched it, it burns like your hands are on fire. It is very frustrating and distressing, as I have a young son of two and have found it very hard at times to change his nappy etc because of my sore hands, and washing them for obvious hygiene reasons just makes them worse. Also I enjoy writing, and have written one book, and manage to hold down a part time office job, but working can prove difficult too at times because typing with extremely sore hands is quite a painful process. If I could be cured of this once and for all and freed from the debilitating allergies that plague me throughout the year, it would mean the world to me.
Kristina Viveash, Woodley Berkshire

I have suffered from eczema, like Jade Williamson in the article, since six months old. I'm now 32, and my life is a constant struggle to keep my skin under control. When I was younger I often used steroidal ointments, but in recent years I have refused such treatment, preferring to suffer often unbearable itchiness and discomfort than use steroidal ointments with known side effects, such as thinning of the skin. Having eczema has made me resilient to people's reactions of disgust at seeing oozing, weeping sores. But I'd very happily do away with having to be on guard against the myriad everyday substances that irritate my skin. I'm very pleased to learn that the root cause has now been identified, and eagerly await any new treatment, however long it takes (I've waited 32 years already so I can wait a while longer!).
Lisa Gulland, France

i have suffered from eczema all of my life, and i can tell you that it is not fun,im now 34 and now have my eczema under control to some degree. i have felt in the past that no one was interested in eczema sufferers and that doctors were happy to keep dishing out the same old treatments, but now after hearing this news i feel we could be entering a new dawn in the fight against a horrible disease that affects so many people in the UK. recently i was referred to Lewisham hospital by my doctor and i had to wait 9 months yes 9 months for a appointment at the dermatology clinic. So obviously eczema is not treated as a priority by the nhs and it has often been my family that have helped me out when my skin is bad. Hopefully it will not take too much time to develope and bring to the marketplace. my kindest regards to all the scientists working on the project. Daniel reader
Daniel Reader, London

This can't come soon enough. I have had this since birth and there is a stigmatism attached to it that really does hurt you. My scalp is particularly badly affected as is the area around my eyebrows and nose and you can see the revulsion in people's faces when it gets particularly bad. It does get to the stage where you would rather stay in and wait till it dies down rather than going out. I could live with it fairly easily when it was just my body, but now I get it worse in my face I really do get upset by it.
Allan, Glasgow, UK

I had the chronic eczema as a child, teenager and young 20s with bandages, hydrocortisone and all. Following a spiritual experience, I visited a Chinese doctor who gave me herbs to drink, telling me there was an imbalance between the liver, kidney and stomach - the cause of all illness according to this approach - causing too much heat in my body. After taking her medicine for a week I could feel a serious change, after a month, my skin was smooth all over my body. I continued to take the herbs and after a year, my whole body had undergone a transformation affecting my weight, energy and general outlook. I now actively warn people with eczema off creams and pills which simply push the symptoms inwards and recommend what I consider to be a cure.
Indra Whitmore, London

I have suffered from Eczema since I was a young boy. I attending hospital and GP for years but no one could find a solution. When I was about 17, I noticed that it cleared up while I was on holiday. I was told that it was a nervous condition. This was not true and I asked my GP and hospital to test sea water. My Eczema cleared up when I went swimming in the sea while on holiday. I was never believed. A few years ago we went to Kos on holiday. There is a place where a volcano is under the sea near the cost. My Eczema cleared up in a few hours! It stayed this way for a few years! There are lots of claims at this place but people go there with all sorts of problems such as being blind and seem to get cured! It worked for me. I told my GP what happened but they will take no action.
Howard Shaw, London, England

My daughter who is now 9, first had eczema when she was 6 weeks old, we went through numerous methods to control this. We found out through trial and error that her eczema was down to dairy in her diet. This init self is a nightmare, as all food that we purchased meant thorough reading of the labels. It is amazing how many foods do have dairy in them. Luckily for her she is now able to eat most things, but she still have dry skin which is controlled by daily creaming. Anything that can help suffers would be wonderful.
Janet Dodd, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

I have suffered from eczema all my life and have in recent years experienced breakouts to bad I have had to go the Emergency Outpatients at my local hospital. I have now got my eczema relatively under control by eliminating salycilates but still have a very stubborn form of blistering eczema on my hands and feet which seem to get worse in humid weather. No creams will get rid of it.
Debbie Robson, Australia

It is interesting to note that finally there may be some treatment of chronic eczema. I had been suffering this since i was few months old till now when i am 69 years old. Initially there was no treatment except bandage/some lotion the most effected area was in the folds of arms/legs. Now it is mainly on face and some on scalp. Using some ointments/anti allergic drugs. The condition worsened when in stress one feel likes scratching all over. Specialists suggest mild dose of cartison which has excellent result but has to be tappered down it reappears after some time. I hope new discovery/drug will be beneficial to millions of suffers. Originally mine was weeping eczema but not now thanks
Shameem Ahmed, Lahore Pakistan

My son had eczema and it was spread all across his legs. The cream we had was very thick and hard to rub in - it hurt him. So I took the recommended amount of cream and added 3 times the amount of moisturiser and spread the mixture. It spread much more evenly and the moisturiser was soothing at the same time.
Sandy, Derby, UK

I was born with eczema and have been back and fore for treatment all my life. The only thing that has worked consistently was immuno suppressant drugs. Have just come out of hospital after some intensive therapy and am delighted to read about this breakthrough - am looking forward to hearing and seeing more
Sharon Jenkins, Cardiff

Watch details of the latest discovery

Goat's milk helped boy's eczema
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