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Ulster University research set to combat antibiotic resistance for acne treatment

Dr Andrew McDowell

Ulster University scientists are leading a three year research programme to discover new ways to treat one of the most devastating forms of the common skin condition acne.

Acne vulgaris is a chronic inflammatory skin condition, classified by the Global Burden of Disease Study as the eighthmost prevalent disease worldwide. While acne is not a life-threatening condition, it can have profound social and psychological effects when symptoms are severe and scarring occurs.

The widespread use of antibiotics over a long period of time to target a skin bacterium known as Propionibacterium acnes, which is believed to play a central role in the development of the condition, has led to the development of acne super-bug strains that are resistant to first line antibiotics. As a result, patients with severe and difficult to treat forms of the condition due to multi-drug resistant strains of the bacterium are now being referred for specialised treatment.

The emergence of this form of super-acne is now raising alarm amongst dermatologists, with the concern that in the future it will become extremely difficult to treat and manage patients with this common condition.

The new three year Ulster University study, which is based at the Northern Ireland Centre for Stratified Medicine, Altnagelvin Area Hospital, Derry~Londonderry, is funded by an £85,000 grant from the British Skin Foundation.

Ulster University’s Dr Andrew McDowell who is leading the project said:

“Antibiotic resistance is a major and growing threat worldwide. For many infections, the emergence of superbugs which are resistant to front-line antibiotic therapies is starting to significantly impact on treatment options.

“For patients with acne, the long term use of antibiotics to treat their condition often leads to the emergence of Propionibacterium acnes strains on their skin that are highly resistant to therapy and therefore extremely difficult to eradicate.

‘’To date, knowledge of the multi-antibiotic resistant strains of this bacterium associated with the severest forms of acne is poor, but this research project at Ulster University will strive to change that.

“Our research will identify patients at risk of not responding to first-line treatments and developing aggressive forms of acne. It will also focus on the development of non-antibiotic-based treatments for the condition. Ultimately, we hope to provide personalised medical solutions for patients to help manage their condition.”