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Atopic Dermatitis Research on Immune System Imbalances

Atopic dermatitis research scientists believe that an imbalance in the immune system may also contribute to the development of the condition. Researchers believe that the part of the immune system responsible for stimulating IgE is overactive and that the part that handles skin, viral, and fungal infections is underactive. This imbalance appears to result in the skin's inability to prevent inflammation, even in areas of skin that appear normal.
Scientists are also studying the role of the infectious bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) in atopic dermatitis.
One type of immune cell in the skin, called Langerhans cell, may be involved in atopic dermatitis. Langerhans cells pick up viruses, bacteria, allergens, and other foreign substances that invade the body and deliver them to other cells in the immune defense system. Scientists have found that:
  • Langerhans cells appear to be hyperactive in the skin of people with atopic diseases
  • Certain Langerhans cells are particularly potent at activating white blood cells called T cells in atopic skin, which produce proteins that promote an allergic response
  • This function results in an exaggerated response of the skin to tiny amounts of allergens.
Scientists have also developed mouse models to study step-by-step changes in the immune system in atopic dermatitis, which may eventually lead to an atopic dermatitis treatment that effectively targets the immune system.

Atopic Dermatitis Research on Treatment Methods

Some atopic dermatitis research scientists are focusing on new treatments for the disorder, including biologic agents, fatty acid supplements, and new forms of phototherapy. Currently, researchers are:
  • Studying how ultraviolet light affects the skin's immune system in healthy and diseased skin.
  • Investigating biologic agents, including several aimed at modifying the response of the immune system. A biologic agent is a new type of drug based on molecules that occur naturally in the body. One promising treatment is the use of thymopentin to reestablish balance in the immune system.
  • Looking for drugs that suppress the immune system, such as cyclosporine A and a drug called FK506, which is applied to the skin rather than taken orally (by mouth).
  • Developing anti-inflammatory drugs that affect multiple cells and cell functions and that may prove to be an effective alternative to corticosteroids.
  • Evaluating several experimental treatments that attempt to replace substances that are deficient in people with atopic dermatitis.
  • Evaluating the use of Chinese herbs and herbal teas to treat atopic dermatitis. Studies to date show some benefit, but not without concerns about toxicity and the risks involved in suppressing the immune system without close medical supervision.

Atopic Dermatitis Information

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