NEW YORK — Personalized treatments for psoriasis, a painful skin condition, could be on the horizon thanks to new research revealing what triggers the condition. Scientists have found that mild and severe cases of psoriasis can be differentiated by the activity of certain cells and chemicals. This discovery could pave the way for the development of more effective, targeted medications, according to researchers.
Psoriasis occurs when skin cells regenerate too rapidly. The disease has many variations, some of which are associated with serious illnesses like arthritis and heart disease. It often manifests as red, scaly patches that reveal fine silvery scales when scraped or scratched. Some people develop a specific form of arthritis associated with the condition.
The disease can occur at any age, but it typically emerges in a person’s 20s or 50s. While normal skin cells are replaced every three to four weeks, those with psoriasis develop new cells every three to seven days. Current treatments primarily involve daily application of creams containing vitamin D or steroid ointments.
“Our initial goal was to find measurable molecular signals that could tell us who is more likely to develop severe psoriasis, as well as who is at higher risk of developing related disorders that often accompany psoriasis, such as arthritis and cardiovascular disease,” explains Professor Jose Scher of New York University, the study’s co-senior investigator, in a media release. “Having found signals with potential systemic consequences, we are now working to understand how skin inflammation can lead to widespread disease affecting other organs.”
Scroll down to see 7 celebrities who have psoriasis
The research team mapped the unseen features of inflammation and compared these features in cases of increasing severity. This could help explain how localized skin inflammation can have far-reaching effects on other body parts. A significant number of psoriasis patients — up to 20 percent — eventually develop inflammation in the joints, known as psoriatic arthritis. The study may also illuminate why psoriasis can trigger Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
The scientists identified clusters of cells called fibroblasts, which are key regulators of inflammation, along with macrophages, a type of white blood cell. These cells were more prevalent in the upper layers of skin in severe cases of psoriasis. Additionally, gene activity tied to metabolism and control of lipid levels — factors known to be disrupted in diabetes and cardiovascular disease — was elevated in more than three dozen molecular pathways in skin samples from 14 patients, even in clear skin distant from any lesions.
“Our study serves as a valuable resource for the scientific community, offering the most comprehensive archive of cellular and molecular features involved in both diseased and healthy skin,” says co-senior investigator Dr. Shruti Naik.
An estimated eight million Americans and 125 million people worldwide have psoriatic disease, which affects men and women equally. Currently, diagnostic tools heavily focus on the visible signs of skin lesions instead of investigating their systemic and molecular effects. While many existing treatments, including steroids and immunosuppressive drugs, reduce inflammation and symptoms, they do not address the root causes of the disease.
Moving forward, the researchers plan to identify links between biological mechanisms involved in skin inflammation and their impact on organs in other parts of the body. They also intend to conduct further research with larger patient groups to understand why the disease sometimes resolves on its own and why patient responses to the same anti-inflammatory medications can vary.
The study is published in the journal Science Immunology.
7 celebs that battle psoriasis
- Kim Kardashian: A reality TV star and entrepreneur, Kardashian has spoken openly about her struggles with psoriasis.
- LeAnn Rimes: The country music singer has been very vocal about her psoriasis and has even served as a spokesperson for the National Psoriasis Foundation.
- Cyndi Lauper: The Grammy-winning singer revealed in 2015 that she had been diagnosed with psoriasis.
- Phil Mickelson: The professional golfer was diagnosed with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis in 2010.
- Cara Delevingne: The model and actress has spoken openly about her struggle with psoriasis, especially during stressful periods.
- Jon Lovitz: The comedian and actor revealed that he struggled with psoriasis for over a decade before finding an effective treatment.
- CariDee English: The “America’s Next Top Model” winner has spoken publicly about her psoriasis, including posing for a campaign by the National Psoriasis Foundation.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.