Bacteria Therapy for Eczema Shows Promise for More Effective, Cheaper Treatment

Applying Good Bacteria to the Skin May Kill Bad Bacteria

Two current studies are looking at the efficacy of using healthy bacteria to get rid of the bad bacteria causing the disease response, restoring the natural microbial balance of healthy skin. When researchers look at the skin of someone with eczema, they have found:

  • The cells don’t have good barrier protection from the environment.
  • There is a larger percentage of Staphylococcus aureus, unhealthy bacteria known to cause eczema.
  • An immune imbalance
  • A deficiency of beneficial bacterial communities

Initial Studies Show Exciting Positive Results

A clinical trial at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) funded by the National Institutes of Health has shown positive results in its initial study.

Twice a week for six weeks, 10 adults and 5 children applied a spray containing Roseomonas mucosa, a healthful, naturally occurring bacterium. Six of the 10 adults had a 75 percent improvement in the itching, the rash, and the amount of topical steroids they felt they needed to keep their disease under control. Four out of the five children had the same 75 percent improvement. No one reported an adverse effect or complication.

Of those who didn’t improve, most had strong family histories of the skin disease. “Most people outgrow eczema by the time they are 6 or 7. If you have multiple generations who have had the disease long into adulthood, it’s probably a different breed of the disease, so to speak. It may be that they don’t have a bacteria problem; it’s more about a genetic issue that has to be addressed a different way. The take-home: Ten out of 15 people had dramatic improvement with no problems,” said NIAID's Ian Myles, MD, the principal investigator.

The Next Steps Toward a New Eczema Treatment

The research team will now test the safety and efficacy of the spray on children as young as 3, and then start a double-blind trial in which participants get either a placebo or the real thing. “We’re probably two or three years removed from this [treatment] becoming publicly available,” says Dr. Myles.

A Second Eczema Treatment Study Is Also on the Bacterial Trail

Researchers at National Jewish Health in Denver are also exploring this unique treatment option in collaboration with the University of California in San Diego. The team has created a cream using a different strain of “good” bacteria, Staphylococcus hominis, which produces proteins that act like antibiotics by killing Staph aureus. Last year, they reported positive results on an initial trial. NJH is currently recruiting for participants for a placebo trial.

The Healing Power of the Body’s Own 'Good' Germs Is Behind These New Treatments

“We believe the microbiome is very important in controlling healing of the skin as well as maturation to build better barriers to the environment. Good bacteria that kills bad bacteria also works on the underlying skin to heal it to make it a healthy skin,” says Donald Leung, MD, the head of the division of pediatric allergy and immunology at National Jewish Health.

Antibiotic Resistance Makes Eczema Harder to Treat

“The reason this is important is because we are running out of antibiotics to kill Staph aureus,” he adds. “It is outsmarting us by mutating and producing enzymes that can prevent the antibiotics from working. One of the pluses of this therapy is that instead of giving antibiotics, we can give good bacteria. We may perhaps create a cocktail of them, because each bacterial group brings a different set of proteins and antibiotics that contribute to the health of the skin. Think of it as probiotics of the skin to recolonize the host.”

Are These Eczema Treatment Studies on the Path to a Cure?

Currently, there is no cure for eczema, only therapies to reduce incidence and intensity. But the future may bring some relief to people living with eczema: “We don’t know if it’s going to be a cure or simply a better treatment, because we are really not far enough along. That’s true of the other study as well. It’s too early to know. It’s a new approach and it may get us away from overuse of antibiotics, which is really causing trouble,” says Dr. Leung.

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