Harmless skin virus identified as potential acne treatment

Scientists say the P. acnes virus has great potential for therapeutic use against acne

A harmless virus that lives on the skin is able to kill the bacteria that cause acne, according to research from scientists at UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh. The scientists looked at Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium in the pores which can trigger acne, and P. acnes phages, a family of viruses that live on the skin.

Using over the counter pore cleansing strips, the scientists lifted the acne bacteria and the P. acnes phages from the noses of both pimply and clear skinned volunteers. When they sequenced the phages’ genomes, they found that the viruses possessed multiple features that make them ideal candidates for the development of a new anti-acne therapy, including their small size, limited diversity and a broad ability to kill their hosts.

“We know that sex hormones, facial oil and the immune system play a role in causing acne; however a lot of research implicates P. acnes as an important trigger. Sometimes they set off an inflammatory response that contributes to the development of acne,” explained Laura Marinelli, a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. “Phages are programmed to target and kill specific bacteria, so P. acnes phages will attack only P. acnes bacteria but not others like E. coli. This trait suggests that they offer strong potential for targeted therapeutic use.”

The next step for the research team is to isolate the active protein from the P. acnes virus and test whether it is as effective as the whole virus in killing bacteria. If the laboratory testing is successful, they will go on to study the compound’s safety and effectiveness in treating acne in humans.

The research findings were published in the 25 September 2012 edition of mBio, the online journal of the American Society for Microbiology.