National Jewish Health in Denver conducting trials on new treatment for eczema | VailDaily.com

National Jewish Health in Denver conducting trials on new treatment for eczema

Laura Bell
Special to the Daily

Dry skin is quite common in the high country. And if you leave it untreated, then it could become worse, leading to eczema and a lifetime of painful symptoms, said Dr. Donald Leung, head of the Division of Pediatric Allergy & Immunology at National Jewish Health in Denver.

Leung is part of a research team conducting clinical trials for people with moderate to severe eczema, and Vail residents are encouraged to contact the clinical coordinator to see if they qualify.

The basics

"Living in Vail at high elevation and low humidity, people tend to have dry skin, which can lead to eczema. There is a lack of lipids or fatty acids that allow water to evaporate more easily," Leung said.

“Living in Vail at high elevation and low humidity, people tend to have dry skin, which can lead to eczema.”Dr. Donald LeungHead of the Division of Pediatric Allergy & Immunology at National Jewish Health in Denver

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"If you allow your skin to dry out, it will crack. Think of it like a potato chip. If you bend the potato chip, it cracks. Your skin will stretch and crack. Once your skin cracks, pollen can get inside your skin and then the body will react. The body tells you there is something invading your skin and blood rushes to your skin to protect against further invasion. Then the scratching and itching start."

The first line of defense is moisturizer after you shower or wash your hands.

Tania Engle, Vail Health physician assistant for internal medicine and endocrinology, recommends using Aquaphor, Triamcinolone cream or ointment.

"You can have bouts of eczema with flare on the flexor surfaces of the skin. A humidifier and proper hydration are very important. Take short — under 15-minute — showers. Also use emollients and lotions on the skin frequently," she said.

And when those answers don't work, it's time to see your physician or a dermatologist, Leung said.

"If you are unfortunate and get obvious eczema, then you have to use an anti-inflammatory," he said. "There are many new drugs that are available. You may use topical steroids, under supervision of a doctor, within a course of three days to a week."

Fighting bacteria with bacteria

When eczema is severe, the answer might be found in the cause itself — bacteria — which is the principle guiding the experimental treatment that Leung is pioneering. In layman's terms, the trial uses a cream containing beneficial bacteria to fight harmful bacteria on the skin.

This approach seeks to restore the natural microbial balance of healthy skin.

"There are over 1,000 species of bacteria that all live in balance on healthy skin, some that even produce natural antibiotics. However, we know that eczema patients lack the beneficial bacteria needed to kill Staph aureus, harmful bacteria that can worsen eczema," Leung said.

To fight harmful bacteria, researchers isolate beneficial bacteria from human skin and grow it in a lab. It is then applied to eczema patients' skin as a lotion twice a day for a week. Bacterial DNA from patients' skin is then analyzed in a lab to determine if the cream has effectively reduced the amount of bad bacteria present.

This is just the beginning of research and clinical trials. The goal of the trial is to discover the best combination of bacteria to clear eczema from the skin and then make it available to patients as a prescription cream.

The next steps involve testing those different combinations to make sure they are safe and then conducting a longer trial to see if the benefits of bacterial cream can truly provide a permanent solution for eczema patients.

This is just one of the multiple microbiome studies taking place at the University of Colorado. Learn more about this trial at https://bit.ly/2K4pRG0.

Join the trial

If you would like to be considered for one of the microbiomes for eczema treatment clinical trials, contact Jessica Sussman at sussmanj@njhealth.org or Trish Taylor and taylorp@ njhealth.org.