Acne-Causing Bacteria Might Also Fight Skin Disease

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A type of skin bacteria that can cause acne might hold the key to treating several skin disorders and even cancer, according to a new study.

Rolf Lood, lead researcher of the findings published in Scientific Reports, says the most common bacteria on human skin, Propionibacterium acnes, secretes a protein that protects us from reactive oxygen species that lead to several skin diseases.

Propionibacterium acnes grown in thioglycollate medium.
Propionibacterium acnes grown in thioglycollate medium.

P. acnes, also dubbed the “acne bacterium” because it “was first discovered on a patient with severe acne,” secretes a protein call RoxP.  This protein protects the skin from oxidative stress — which occurs when reactive oxygen species damage cells. One of the most common causes of oxidative stress on the skin is the UV radiation that occurs from sunshine.

“This protein is important for the bacterium’s very survival on our skin. The bacterium improves its living environment by secreting RoxP, but in doing so it also benefits us,” explains Rolf Lood, who is also from the Department of Clinical Sciences at Lund University in Sweden.

The Power of RoxP

RoxP works just as well as antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E in fighting the dangerous oxygen species that cause skin disorders, according to researchers. Oxidative stress is a known contributing factor in several skin diseases, including atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and skin cancer.

P. acnes is extremely common in both people with healthy skin and those with skin irritations and diseases. Lood says because all individuals have different specific amounts of the bacterium based on the quality and condition of their skin, their natural amounts of the protective protein RoxP will also vary.

Future Studies of RoxP as a Skin Protectant

Lood and his team will next test RoxP’s ability to fight cancer using a human study group. Patients with basal cell carcinoma, a precancerous condition called actinic keratosis, will be compared to a healthy control group. The study will examine the correlation between the level of illness and the amounts of RoxP in the skin.

RoxP’s ability to serve as a protectant will also be explored in animal laboratory study.  Mice, some given RoxP and others that have not, will all be exposed to UV radiation. Researchers hope to find out if the RoxP mice have better and more positive outcomes than the ones that did not receive the protein.

“If the study results are positive,” says Lood. “They could lead to the inclusion of RoxP in sunscreens and its use in the treatment of psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.”

Ronke Idowu Reeves
Ronke Idowu Reeves is a writer and journalist who hails from Brooklyn, NY. Her news and entertainment stories have appeared on WABC-TV-New York, Fox News Channel, VH1, BET.com plus in Sundance Film Festival’s Sundance Daily Insider and People Magazine.