Children's eczema breakthrough as scientists identify vaccine potential

Eczema is said to affect around a quarter of children and can strike from babies upwards
Eczema is said to affect around a quarter of children and can strike from babies upwards -Credit:scu

There is hope for a revolutionary treatment for children with eczema following vaccine research which could see a tailored jab available to use within years.

Eczema, a condition which causes the skin to become itchy, dry and cracked, is common and can affect all ages from babies upwards. Also known as atopic dermatitis, it is said to affect up to one in four children and can be very painful if bacteria is introduced, leading to weeping wounds which can progress to more severe infections and even lead to life-threatening ones such as septicaemia.

But now, as WalesOnline reports, researchers in Ireland think that a vaccine could be key to treating bacteria-driven flare-ups of eczema, with one of the team involved believing it "has significant potential to revolutionise treatment approaches". The researchers at Trinity College Dublin have taken several leaps forward in understanding how the immune response works in cases of eczema driven by a troublesome Staphylococcus aureus bacterium.

They say they have now identified new cellular targets for a vaccine. Study lead author Dr Julianne Clowry, a consultant dermatologist and visiting research fellow at Trinity, said: "There is a real need for new options to treat and prevent infected flares of eczema in children. Current strategies are limited in their success and - even when they do provide relief - the effects may be short-term as symptoms often return.

"Although antibiotics are needed in some cases, scientists are trying hard to deliver alternative options due to the growing problems posed by antimicrobial resistance. In combination, these factors make a tailored vaccine a very attractive target as it could limit the severity of eczema; lead to better longer-lasting outcomes and reduce the need for antibiotics - all while also reducing the risk of complications and potentially the development of other atopic diseases, such as hayfever and asthma.”

The team uncovered important “immune signatures” in children with infected flares of eczema. Pinpointing these can help set specific targets involving a vaccine.

They worked with 93 children, from babies up to age 16, and compared immune responses between three groups, including one with eczema; another with a different skin infection and some healthy volunteers, and found certain immune cells and other markers varied "considerably".

And those with infected flares of eczema were found to have a suppression of important cells which drive an effective immune response. The team say their findings, published in the journal JCI Insight, provide an early blueprint in developing future therapies which could provide targeted effective relief from recurrent bouts of eczema.

Dr Alan Irvine, professor of dermatology at Trinity, said new scientific approaches are continuing to make key discoveries about the complex relationship between certain bacteria and human responses to it. He said: "Our work outlines new discoveries about how children with eczema respond immunologically to infection with this common bacterium.”

And the study's senior author, Trinity immunology professor Rachel McLoughlin said: “Further work is now required to broaden the scope of these results, by expanding to a larger number of people."

She added that with a more comprehensive understanding of the immune response to a particular bacteria in eczema, there is "significant potential to revolutionise treatment approaches" and make a major impact upon management of eczema.