Venom from fire ants could one day be used to treat psoriasis, new research suggests.
A skin cream made of solenopsins, the toxic component, helps combat symptoms of the skin condition, scientists claim.
In trials on mice, it was shown to reduce skin thickening and inflammation – both are typical features of the incurable disorder.
Researchers are hopeful their ‘interesting’ findings, published in Scientific Reports, could lead to a cure for humans in future.
A skin cream made of solenopsins, the toxic component in fire ant venom, helps combat symptoms of psoriasis, scientists claim
Psoriasis affects 125 million people across the world, figures suggest, including Kim Kardashian and former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher.
In the UK it strikes around 650,000 people, while in the US there are nearly eight millions sufferers. Adults under 35 are deemed to be most at risk.
Current psoriasis treatments
Current treatments revolve around topical steroid creams and emollients to soothe and hydrate the patches of red, flaky skin.
But the medications are known to have side effects such as skin thinning and easy bruising. Acne has also been reported.
How was the study carried out?
For the study, researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, used tested two solenopsins on mice with psoriasis.
Solenopsins are chemically similar to ceramides – molecules found in many beauty products which maintain the barrier function of skin.
The rodents were given one of the two skin creams for 28 days. A control group of mice were given no treatment.
WHAT IS PSORIASIS?
Psoriasis is an immune condition that occurs when a sufferer’s skin cells are replaced in just a few days rather than the usual 21 to 28 days.
This causes an accumulation of skin cells that build up to form raised plaques, which can be flaky, scaly, red and itchy.
Some sufferers have a family history of the condition.
Triggers for flare-ups include stress, certain medication, hormonal changes and skin injury.
There is no cure.
Treatment usually starts with topical creams and gels.
Source: Psoriasis Association
What did they find?
At the end of the trial period, mice treated with the solenopsins displayed a 30 per cent decrease in skin thickness on average.
They also had 50 per cent less immune cells infiltrating the skin and attacking itself – which occurs in psoriasis.
In tests on mice cells, the solenopsin compounds dampened the production of the inflammatory signal IL-22 – believed to make the condition worse.
At the same time, the skin creams sparked the creation of more anti-inflammatory IL-12 compounds – which are known to have the opposite effect.
What did the researchers say?
Lead author Dr Jack Arbiser said: ‘We believe solenopsin analogs are contributing to full restoration of the barrier function in the skin.
‘Emollients can soothe the skin in psoriasis, but they are not sufficient for restoration of the barrier.’
He added that the new findings suggest the solenopsin compounds ‘could be used in combination with existing approaches’.
What do the experts think?
Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, told MailOnline ‘the findings are interesting’ – but was cautious.
She added: ‘The findings are not at a stage where we can determine how clinically relevant these observations are or will be in the treatment of psoriasis.’
The same researchers have previously found that solenopsin, which may be toxic, has the potential to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells.
They said they aren’t concerned over fears of the compound’s toxicity considering how widely used Botox is in preventing wrinkles.