Vaccine for Acne Could Be One Step Closer After This Finding

Stock photo of a woman with acne. iStock

Scientists are one step closer to developing a vaccine for acne, according to new research.

In a paper published by the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, a team of scientists demonstrated for the first time how a type of cell that the body produces in response to a toxin secreted by bacteria on the skin can actually reduce inflammation in lesions caused by acne.

While acne is not life-threatening, it can significantly impact the mental wellbeing of those affected due to the fact it is difficult to conceal. The appearance of the lesions can lead to anxiety, reduced self-esteem, and, in extreme cases, depression or suicidal thoughts.

It frequently appears during adolescence—a key period in an individual's physical, emotional and social development—although the lesions and scars sometimes persist into adulthood.

"Once validated by a large-scale clinical trial, the potential impact of our findings is huge for the hundreds of millions of individuals suffering from acne vulgaris," Chun-Ming Huang, from the Department of Dermatology at the University of California, San Diego, and the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering at the National Central University, Taiwan, said in a statement.

At present, medications for acne, such as retinoids and antibiotics, are often insufficient and have been linked to serious side effects, including skin dryness, irritation, birth defects after pregnancy, suicidal thoughts and depression.

"Current treatment options are often not effective or tolerable for many of the 85 percent of adolescents and more than 40 million adults in the United States who suffer from this multi-factorial cutaneous inflammatory condition," Huang said. "New, safe and efficient therapies are sorely needed."

According to the scientists, a future vaccine could work by targeting a bacterium known as Propionibacterium acnes, which is abundant on the human skin and thought to play a role in the development of acne.

In the paper, they demonstrated how a toxin known as Christie-Atkins-Munch-Peterson (CAMP) factor, which is secreted by this bacterium, can produce inflammation in animal tissue.

They then showed how the inflammation could be reduced, both in mice and cultured human skin cells, by using antibodies—immune cells that neutralize pathogens—that specifically target CAMP.

The new results suggest that the CAMP factor is a promising target for acne therapies. This is an especially significant observation because the toxin had not been implicated in the development of acne before.

But despite its role in disease, P. acnes also plays an important role in maintaining the equilibrium between all the bacteria that reside on the skin, which are crucial to maintaining its health. It does this by preventing invasion from other pathogens, for example.

Any therapy then that targets P. acnes must ensure that the equilibrium of bacteria on the skin is not left entirely out of balance, according to Emmanuel Contassot, from the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

"While addressing an unmet medical need and providing an appealing approach, acne immunotherapies that target P. acnes-derived factors have to be cautiously designed to avoid unwanted disturbance of the microbiome that guarantees skin homeostasis," he wrote in an accompanying commentary article.

"Whether or not CAMP factor-targeted vaccines will impact multiple P. acnes subtypes has to be determined, but acne immunotherapy presents an interesting avenue to explore nonetheless."