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Acne Goes Viral

T4 Bacteriophage

A bacteriophage; can this cure acne? (Photo credit: Jon_Tucker)

Gabrielle Petrancuri (1 PM Micro) found this article about a possible cure for acne, which proposes to use bacteriophages. Phages are one of my favorite topics here at YCPMicro, and you can read more here and here. If you would like to read about another alternative to the treatment to skin blemishes, this student guest post from last semester showed how the immune system might be tricked. Here is Gabrielle’s summary:

Acne can be defined as a skin condition that consists of pimples, deeper lumps, and plugged pores.  Every year acne affects millions of people worldwide.  Specifically, nearly 90% of Americans will be affected by acne at one time in their life, most commonly in their teenage years.  Some treatments include: antibiotics, accutane, and peroxide.  Although dermatologists and researchers have been taking steps to prevent and reduce acne, no one treatment has been fully successful.  As a result, many individuals have low self-esteem or self-image, and may even feel depressed.

However, recent research by UCLA and University of Pittsburg scientists has led doctors to believe that there may be a cure for acne: “a harmless virus living on our skin that naturally seeks out and kills the bacteria that cause pimples.”

By looking at the microorganism Propionibacterium acnes and a family of viruses known as P. acnes phages, the scientists took one step closer to reaching their goal of finding a cure for acne.   Propionibacterium acnes are a bacteria that sets off acne production and that exists in the skin pores of the human body. Acne is produced when P. acnes irritates the immune system. Meanwhile, P. acnes phages are a family of viruses that infect and destroy Propionibacterium acnes without harming the human skin.

In order to learn about the effects of P. acnes and P. acne phages, the scientists used pore-cleansing strips to collect acne bacteria and P.acnes phages from the noses of volunteers with and without acne.  After collecting and observing the P. acnes phages, they found that the viruses had many similar characteristics and most had the ability to kill their hosts.  Both of these characteristics made P. acnes phages a prime suspect for a new anti-acne treatment.

Graham Hatfull, the professor of biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh said “Our finding provide valuable insights into acne and the bacterium that causes it.  The lack of genetic diversity among the viruses that attack the acne bacterium implies that viral-based strategies may help control this distressing skin disorder.”

P. acne phages are targeted to harm and kill only P. acne bacteria.  As a result, P. acne phages will not harm human skin or any other bacteria existing on its surfaces.  For this reason, P. acne phages are a new candidate for anti-acne treatment.

After the study, many experts questioned the results because it does not verify or explain why some people have clear skin and others do not.   The researchers response to this was that those with healthy skin have an abundance of Propionibacterium acnes phages that prevent acne production.  Meanwhile, those with unclear skin do not have enough P. acne phage production, and as a result, they cannot prevent the bacteria from aggravating the immune system.

In order to use P. acne phages as an anti-acne therapeutic treatment, more research must be conducted. Specifically, researchers should start growing this specific type of phages in the lab and implanting them into anti-acne treatments to test their ability in preventing acne.   This research could benefit millions of individuals in the future.


Ubiquity of Bacteriophages

The structure of a typical bacteriophage

Structure of a typical bacteriophage, Image via Wikipedia

I’m hitting a milestone today; it’s the 100th posting here on YCPMicro! I found an interesting, and topical article via Science Daily. It summarizes this article from PLOSone, an online journal at the National Institutes of Health.  Freshmen undergraduate students at Washington University in St. Louis can take a fascinating course in  Biotechnology. In the Fall semester, students isolate novel bacteriophages from the soil in the region, the genetic sequence of the phages are determined during Winter break, and in the Spring semester the student analyze the genomes of their “pet” phages. Students get naming rights to their phage, which has resulted in these classic names:  Angelica, Uncle Howie, Corndog, Fruitloop, Tweety, Predator, and Gumball.

Bacteriophages are likely the most common biological entities on the planet, with an estimated 1031 virus particles contributing to 1023 infections every second. To put that into perspective, there are roughly that number of atoms in 6 gram hunk of charcoal. That’s a lot of phages to find! Read the rest of this entry

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