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Itchiness experienced by people with atopic dermatitis / eɪˈtɒp ɪk ˌdɜr məˈtaɪ tɪs/ can now be suppressed, according to a study.
A team of scientists from Kyushu University discovered that persistent itchiness caused by the skin disease atopic dermatitis is caused by a protein called EPAS1. The study, which was done on mice, revealed that the amount of EPAS1 in the blood is significantly higher among mice that have the disease.
Mice with atopic dermatitis have five to 10 times more EPAS1 than those that do not have the disease. EPAS1 is found inside immune cells of mice that have dermatitis, and is responsible for producing substances that cause itchiness. Normally, when bacteria or viruses enter the body, the immune system releases these substances. They induce responses like swelling, pain, or itchiness to fight infection.
The high amount of EPAS1 in people with atopic dermatitis causes them to experience more severe itchiness. At present, doctors prescribe anti-allergy medications or moisturizers to relieve this symptom. However, these medications are only temporary solutions.
The study’s lead researchers want to identify substances that may be able to control EPAS1 to create new treatments and medication. The researchers said that these new drugs will be expensive, but it may be possible to develop a reasonably-priced formulation.
According to a UK doctor not related to the study, scratching itchy skin causes atopic dermatitis to worsen. He explained that when people scratch their skin, chemicals that tell the brain to keep scratching are released. By suppressing the protein that causes itchiness, the scratching cycle can be stopped and flare-ups can be prevented.