Major Breakthrough in the Treatment of Eczema by Trinity College Researchers

Posted on: 13 April 2007

Research led by TCD’s School of Medicine in conjunction with the University of Dundee has identified genetic mutations associated with childhood eczema, providing a  potential major breakthrough in the treatment of eczema. As a result of this important research, major progress can now be made in developing genetic tests to identify children at risk of eczema and improve treatments for the condition. The findings by the team of researchers which was led by Paediatric Dermatologist, Dr Alan Irvine of the TCD Department of Clinical Medicine, in conjunction with Professor Irwin McLean at the University of Dundee’s College of Medicine, have just been published in the world-leading journal, Nature Genetics.

There are currently one in five people in Ireland who suffer from eczema.  More than 188 Irish children were surveyed for the purpose of this research which was in part funded by the Children’s Medical Research Foundation of Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin.

The data from eczema patients in Ireland showed that five different mutations in a gene called filaggrin were much more common in Irish children with eczema than in the general population. Although around one in 10 people of European origin carry one of the mutations, the study found that around half of the Irish eczema patients had it.

Filaggrin helps to form the skin’s other protective layer, which is made up of dead cells that are collapsed together into a continuous protein sheath that keeps water in and invaders such as bacteria out.

The fact that mutations to the filaggrin gene are over-represented in the disease group suggests that such changes make eczema more likely. This was backed up by the team’s finding that virtually no individuals with two mutant copies of the filaggrin gene did not develop eczema.

“Having a filaggrin mutation confers a very high risk of eczema -a 65% chance with one filaggrin mutation and a 90% chance with two filaggrin mutation,” commented TCD’s Dr Irvine. “This new research now provides a target for direct intervention and the development of new therapeutic approaches.”