Acne is the bane of teenage existence and renewed interest in an old treatment method may soon bring relief. Using genetic sequencing, scientists have found a group of new viruses that may be able to control bacteria levels in the skin and bring hope to those seeking acne treatments that work. The same approach can also be used to fight other maladies such as leprosy, bedsores, and resistant staph bacteria, which is a big problem in hospitals.
Phages and Bacteria
The discovery of viruses, or phages, that co-exist with bacteria goes back more than a century. Used experimentally to treat illnesses such as cholera, phages were largely forgotten when antibiotics were developed after the second world war. As bacteria have grown more resistant to antibiotic treatment in recent years, interest in how phages control bacterial growth, especially in relation to acne, has grown again.
Acne occurs in people who have excessive P.acnes bacteria in the pores of their facial skin. The bacteria multiply rapidly when there is a lot of oil produced, which plugs the pores. The new viruses, discovered by a group of scientists at UCLA, appear to coexist alongside the P.acnes in people who do not develop problem acne. When the phage genomes were closely examined, they bore a strong resemblance to the acne bacteria, which suggests that P.acnes could never become resistant to the phages.
A Special Enzyme
The research group was also able to pinpoint a particular enzyme that is used by the viruses to kill the bacterial cell by breaking down its wall during the exit phase. It is thought the enzyme could provide the basis for topical acne treatment, in the near future.
Viruses, which are much smaller than bacteria, can cause illnesses that are merely inconvenient, such as the common cold, to life-threatening, as in HIV. They always operate in the same way by invading a cell, interfering with its reproductive process, and killing it on exit. When the cells are bothersome bacteria, viruses switch sides and become friendly to the human body.
More advanced research is ongoing regarding the use of viruses in the fight against other types of bacteria, namely staph infections. Phages are also being used to heal bedsores and diabetic foot ulcers, which can be resistant to standard treatment.
Since bacteria can develop resistance quickly, it is important to use a group of viruses to treat it. Luckily for acne sufferers, P.acnes is a single species and can be easily controlled through the use of only two phages. Since the focus is on controlling the P.acnes rather than killing it off, it is unlikely the bacteria will become unresponsive to the phages. In the long term, the goal is to eliminate bacterial resistance altogether.
This is very good news for teens and other people who have been fighting the battle against acne and are desperate for a solution.