Bacteria-eating virus can stop acne when nothing else works

Pimples are an annoying part of life that inconvenience teens and sometimes, ahem, adults, too. Acne, on the other hand, is a stubborn bacteria that wreaks havoc on innocent and undeserving victims. For our impressionable youth, especially, it can affect confidence and make social interactions uncomfortable.

Fortunately, there are a number of acne remedies available today. Unfortunately, they are not always effective.

The bacteria that cause acne have become more resistant to antibiotics. Combining them with benzoyl peroxide (another bacteria killer) works better, but still doesn't get the job done in some cases. Other common treatments include expensive laser and light therapy and Acutane pills, which can have pretty serious side effects.

UCLA dermatologist Dr. Jenny Kim and her colleagues are exploring new ways to kill acne. Specifically, Kim and the other scientists studied Propionibacterium acnes, an acne-causing bacterium, as well as P. acnes phages, a group of harmless viruses already living on the skin. According to Kim, "The virus is going to go and kill the bacteria that causes acne. It's just going to break it apart and burst its membrane so there's no time for the bacteria to mutate." How stealthy.

If it's already on our skin, why do some folks still get acne? Researchers think that people with clearer skin might "have a population of phages that helps keep the P. acnes bacteria in check, while in others, the phage activity is insufficient to prevent the bacteria from aggravating the immune system."

So people with acne might just need their phages to be "programmed" to go after the bacteria and hopefully, voila! If further lab testing goes well, Dr. Kim and her team will begin testing the treatment on people.


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