The scientific research was led by Tina Holm and colleagues from the Stockholm University and Karolinska Institute, and although still at the early stages, the scientists are aiming to take the study further, with the ultimate goal of trying to find an effective treatment for a range of dry skin conditions.
The research, which has been published in the Society for Applied Microbiology’s peer-reviewed journal Letters In Applied Microbiology, has concentrated on the the growth of the commensal yeast Malassezia sympodialis, which is known to act as a trigger factor in different skin disorders, such as atopic eczema, seborrhoeic eczema and dandruff.
The research has been spurred by the fact that the incidence of dry skin conditions is on the rise in developed countries, something that is underlined by up-to-date statistics showing that 20 per cent of children in the UKsuffer from atopic eczema, which the 7 per cent of adults are estimated to suffer the condition for life.
Targeting fragile, easily damaged skin
Although Malassezi sympodialis is a yeast commonly found in both healthy skin and that affected by dry skin conditions, the problem in the latter group is that individuals often suffer from a more fragile skin barrier, that is susceptible to damage.
This damage invariably allows the yeast to penetrate the skin barrier, leading to infections that exacerbate dry skin conditions.
Bearing this in mind, the researchers set about finding a way of killing the bacteria that causes the infection, without affecting the healthy functioning of the skin.
The researchers decided to approach this problem by testing 21 peptides that demonstrated either cell-penetrating or antimicrobial properties – cell-penetrating peptides having the ability to cross the cell membranes, while anti-microbial peptides are natural antibiotics that kill various types of microbes, including fungi.
Research narrowed down to six peptides
The researchers have identified that six of the peptides they tested were successful in killing the yeast, without damaging the membrane of keratinocytes in the human skin cells.
Although the research is still at a very early stage, the scientists believe that further research will help the team to discover how these peptides can be harnessed to provide an effective treatment, which will involve further examination of the mechanisms used by the peptides to kill the yeast cells.
“Many questions remain to be solved before these peptides can be used in humans,” said Holm. “However, the appealing combination of being toxic to the yeast at low concentrations whilst sparing human cells makes them very promising as antifungal agents.”