San Diego/ Science, Tech & Medicine
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Published on December 20, 2023
Zit's Incredible! UC San Diego Scientists Engineer Groundbreaking Acne VaccineSource: Roshu Bangal, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In a significant leap forward in the fight against acne, researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have engineered a pioneering vaccine that could dial down the chronic skin condition. According to a UC San Diego news release, this vaccine zeroes in on a specific enzyme variant linked to the inflammation caused by acne without affecting beneficial skin bacteria, marking a departure from broadly acting treatments.

The development emerges from over a decade of inquiry into the bacterium Cutibacterium acnes, which innocuously inhabits our skin, but curiously, only a subset of people endure acne troubles. These findings tap into genetic differences between acne-causing and non-acne-causing bacteria. The researchers have discovered that nearly 80% of individuals battle acne at some point, primarily during their teenage years, pointing to a mix of culprits including genetics, environment, and now, bacterial enzymes.

A study published on December 5 in the journal Nature Communications, lifting the lid on this scientific achievement, highlights two versions of the hyaluronidase enzyme produced by the bacteria. "HylA causes inflammation and acne while HylB helps in reducing inflammation and promotes healthy skin," the team explained. It is among HylA producers that the vaccine shows promise, offering hope for a targeted treatment ensuring the good bacteria on our skin stays intact.

“Our anti-acne directed approach has the potential to revolutionize acne therapies by offering more targeted treatments,” Irshad Hajam, a postdoctoral fellow in the Liu Lab and lead author of the study, told UC San Diego. The researchers, after genetically disabling the hyaluronidase in both health- and acne-associated C. acnes, observed significantly reduced inflammation, underscoring the problematic nature of only the acne-linked variant. The cross-collaborative study, involving Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA, received funding from the National Institutes of Health.

With the research team now honing in on the fine print of using selective HylA inhibitors and vaccines for acne therapeutics, their successful preliminary efforts stand to potentially transform the landscape of acne treatment for those affected by or at risk of the condition.