Scientists think they've found a 'cure' for Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a skin disease that affects a lot of people around the world. Around 100 million individuals – roughly two to three per cent of the total population – are affected by it worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.
The skin condition usually causes red, crusty patches of skin to appear on a person's elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. While most people only get small patches of irritation, you can get psoriasis anywhere on your body, and it can be quite itchy or sore. For some people, it's just a bit annoying, but unfortunately for others, it can really impact their day-to-day life.
Which is why a new scientific discovery may bring some great news for people living with psoriasis. A study was conducted by Emory University of Medicine in Atlanta and Case Western Reserve University scientists, where they studied psoriasis-carrying mice who might be cured by... fire ants.
No, the fire ants were not using tiny surgical utensils or rubbing balms on the mice. The scientists used the venom from the fire ants to see if it would subdue some of the painful symptoms of the disease.
"Venom... on red and itchy skin?!", I hear you cry. Yes, it sounds like an absurd remedy prescribed by some kind of swamp witch. But hear me out.
The particular component the scientists found to be of value was something called "solenopsins", the main toxic component of fire ant venom. The venom was made into a one per cent cream and then applied to the psoriasis-affected mice, and scientists saw that both inflammation and skin thickening was reduced. These two things are the most common symptoms of the condition.
Although only tested on mice (who are significantly different from our genetic makeup, I must say), the findings are promising enough to lead to the potential development of new treatments. It has been suggested that the compounds from the fire ant venom could be used as a supplement to existing treatments of the skin, such as phototherapy.
At the moment, people mainly use steroid creams or emollients to treat the common skin disease. But these creams have side effects too, such as skin thinning and easy bruising. Professor of Dermatology Jack Arbiser said the compounds from the ant venom looks more promising that the existing products.
"We believe that solenopsin analogs are contributing to full restoration of the barrier function in the skin," he said. "Emollients can soothe the skin in psoriasis, but they are not sufficient for restoration of the barrier."
In plain English: the ant venom chemical helps fix irritated and broken skin, where creams were only able to soothe it before. This is because – amazingly – the solenopsin-treated mice had around 50 per cent less immune cells making up the skin. This caused the skin cells to have a significantly reduced inflammatory reaction, meaning skin won't be as itchy or red as before.
Psoriasis is a chronic disease, meaning it's long-lasting. People may have periods with hardly a trace of the skin condition, and other times patches can flare up quite severely. It can be very irritating and uncomfortable to live with, and it can really affect someone's self-esteem.
As unusual as the findings are, the discovery about fire ant venom may come as a welcome new remedy to relieve some of the discomfort that comes with living with the disease. For the huge amount of people psoriasis affects, fire ants may be an unlikely new ally.