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Advances in health and medicine.
Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
General Health Channel
Reported March 1, 2013

Zapping Zits: Good Bacteria Could be the Answer

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- The bacteria that cause acne lives on everyone’s skin, but only one in five lucky people develop an occasional pimple over a lifetime.  Now, a new study could tell us their “secret.”

A UCLA study conducted with researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute discovered that acne bacteria contains “bad” strains associated with pimples and “good” strains that might protect the skin.

“We learned that not all acne bacteria trigger pimples, one strain may help keep skin healthy.  We hope to apply our findings to develop new strategies that stop blemishes before they start, and enable dermatologists to customize treatment to each patient's unique cocktail of skin bacteria,” Huiying Li, principal investigator, and an assistant professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, was quoted as saying.

Researchers looked at a tiny microbe, called Propionibaterium acnes, bacteria that thrive in oily pores.  When the bacteria aggravate the immune system, they cause the red, swollen pumps associated with acne.  They used the over-the-counter pore cleansing strips to lift Propionibacterium acnes bacteria from the noses of 49 people with pimply skin and 52 people with clear skin. 

Researchers extracted the microbial DNA from the strips and tracked a genetic marker to identify the bacterial strains in each volunteer’s pores and recorded their findings.  Then, Li’s lab cultured the bacteria from the strips to isolate over 1,000 strains.  Washington University scientists then sequenced the genomes of 66 of the Propionibacterium acnes strains, allowing UCLA co-first author Shuta Tomida to narrow down genes unique to each strain. 

"We were extremely excited to uncover a third strain of P. acnes that's common in healthy skin yet rarely found when acne is present. We suspect that this strain contains a natural defense mechanism that enables it to recognize attackers and destroy them before they infect the bacterial cell,” Li explained.

Researchers believe there is new hope for acne sufferers.  If they increase the body’s friendly strain of P. acnes through the use of a simple cream, then it may help calm pimply complexions.

"This P. acnes strain may protect the skin, much like yogurt's live bacteria help defend the gut from harmful bugs.  Our next step will be to investigate whether a probiotic cream can block bad bacteria from invading the skin and prevent pimples before they start,” Li said.

Future studies will focus on exploring new drugs that kill bad strains of P. acnes while also preserving the good ones, a simple skin test to predict if a person will develop aggressive acne, and the use of viruses to kill acne-related bacteria.

"Our research underscores the importance of strain-level analysis of the world of human microbes to define the role of bacteria in health and disease.  This type of analysis has a much higher resolution than prior studies that relied on bacterial cultures or only made distinctions between bacterial species,” George Weinstock, associate director of the Genome Institute and professor of genetics at Washington University in St. Louis, was quoted as saying.

SOURCE: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, February 2013

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