The Skin Cell Atlas is a highly detailed map of skin which reveals the same cell processes from development are re-activated in cells from patients with eczema and psoriasis.
Eczema and psoriasis are inflammatory skin conditions you often see in clinic, and scientists are a step closer to figuring out their origins. Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Newcastle University and Kings College London recently discovered that skin from eczema and psoriasis patients share many of the same molecular pathways as developing skin cells.
The study developed The Skin Cell Atlas as a part of a broader global effort to map every cell in the human body. The comprehensive atlas of developing and adult skin has revealed specific molecular signals sent by healthy skin to summon immune cells and form a protective layer, says co-senior author Professor Muzlifah Haniffa.
“We were amazed to see that eczema and psoriasis skin cells were sending the same molecular signals, which could over-activate immune cells and cause the disease. This had never been seen before,” Professor Haniffa said.
Using cutting-edge single-cell technology and machine learning, the team analysed more than half a million individual skin cells, to see which genes were switched on in each cell. This allowed them to find out what each individual cell does and how they talk to each other.
Atopic eczema and psoriasis are both autoimmune diseases most people will experience during their lifetime at varying degrees. Dermatologist Cara McDonald explains that our immune system is responsible for the dysfunction and damage to the skin, and the research gives insight into how this happens.
“Ultimately, this research has clarified which genes and metabolic pathways have been ‘mistakenly’ switched on, signalling to the immune system to over-react or attack our own cells,” she said.
Treatments currently consist of alleviating eczema and psoriasis symptoms, which include itchy and flaking skin prone to infection. However, this research opens up new opportunities for treatment options.
“At this point in time, treatments for psoriasis and eczema target the overactive immune cells and/or the chemicals and proteins that they produce. Current treatments, therefore, reduce or block the damage that is done to the skin by our own immune system, but can also inhibit desirable actions of the immune system at the same time,” Dr McDonald said.
“The hope is that this new research will lead to more precise, effective or even curative treatment options by reconstructing healthy cells – targeting the faulty switch or signal within the skin cell – and preventing the damaging immune response.”
The Skin Cell Atlas could also help scientists investigate other causes of diseases and potential new treatments. These areas include regenerative medicine and other inflammatory disorders like bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
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