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Is acne genetic? Study makes ‘huge leap forward’ in finding cure for pimples

botchway December 13, 2018


Hope has been given to millions of acne sufferers as a new study suggests the condition may be genetic.

In the first trial of its kind, researchers analysed the DNA of more than 26,700 people – including thousands battling severe acne.

Results showed there were significant genetic variations between people with the condition and those with clear skin.

Genes that control hair follicles are thought to play a particularly critical role in the onset of the common condition.

The researchers have called the study a ‘significant leap forward’ and hope it will lead to more effective treatments that prevent permanent scarring. 

The study was carried out by the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London. 

Acne is a very common condition in teenagers and young adults, with around 80 per cent of those aged 11-to-30 in the UK being affected, according to NHS statistics.

Around 85 per cent of 12-to-24 years old in the US suffer to some extent, figures from the American Academy of Dermatology suggest.

People are most likely to suffer in their teens, with symptoms generally disappearing by the time they reach their mid-20s. However, it can strike in adulthood.

Consultant dermatologist Professor Jonathan Barker and colleagues analysed the DNA of 26,772 people, of which 5,602 had acne.

The researchers found variants related to acne at 15 genetic locations, of which 12 had not previously been identified.

They also discovered many of the genetic variants related to the skin condition affect the formation of hair follicles.

Impaired hair follicle function is thought to encourage the colonisation of acne-causing bacteria that lead to inflammation.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the authors added: ‘Acne can have severe emotional and psychological consequences and has been associated with depression, unemployment, suicidal ideation and suicide itself.

‘The treatment regimes are often ineffective and poorly tolerated, and there remains a substantial unmet medical need.’

The study was collaboration between Professor Barker’s team and Professor Michael Simpson’s Genomic Medicine Group at King’s College London.

Professor Simpson added: ‘A number of the genetic variants point to interesting mechanisms that could be really good targets for new drugs or treatments that would really help patients.’

The researchers stress there are additional genetic variants related to acne that have not been discovered.

It is defined as spots and oily skin that can be red or painful. Although not fully understood, acne is thought to be caused by a combination of sebum, inflammation and the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes entering hair follicles.

Acne treatment varies depending on how severe the condition is. The NHS advises that if a person has just a few blackheads, whiteheads or spots, that they try over-the-counter creams containing benzoyl peroxide.

Benzoyl peroxide is an antiseptic that reduces the amount of bacteria on the skin, which should lower the number of black and whiteheads.

In more severe cases, topical retinoids may be prescribed, however, these can cause birth defects and should not be taken during pregnancy. Antibiotics may be given alongside creams and gels.


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