Acne and adolescence go hand in hand. But researchers say these skin lesions might become a torment of the past if preliminary tests of an experimental vaccine pan out.
So far, the vaccine has only been tried on animals and human skin samples. It uses antibodies to target a toxin secreted by the bacteria responsible for acne, explained study author Chun-Ming Huang. He's a professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Diego.
Potentially, such a vaccine could help the 85% of US teens and more than 40 million American adults suffering with the lesions, scars and emotional stigma of acne, he added.
Local research has shown that it is equally prevalent in South Africa.
Huang said his team is "actively seeking a company to work with us to conduct a clinical trial".
According to Huang, "The efficacy of this vaccine has been validated in human acne biopsies. It works to reduce inflammation in acne lesions."
If the results of clinical trials are positive, it's possible the vaccine could be available "within three to five years", he said.
Current treatments – such as skin creams, antibiotics or systemic retinoids – often provoke unpleasant side effects, such as extreme skin dryness and irritation, according to background notes with the study.
Antibodies that eliminate the toxin
For many skin-pocked teenagers and adults, the frustration and shame of uncontrolled acne has been linked to a higher risk for clinical depression and suicide or suicidal thoughts.
The proposed acne vaccine focuses on acne-causing bacteria that is common on human skin, the study authors explained. This bacteria – known as P. acnes – releases a toxin known as CAMP. In theory, the vaccine works by generating antibodies that eliminate this toxin.
"Once the toxin is neutralised, inflammation in the acne lesion will be suppressed," Huang said.
Testing with mice and human skin samples showed that the vaccine "significantly diminishes" both P. acnes "colonisation" and inflammation. Whether such success can be replicated by direct administration to people remains to be seen, however.
Nevertheless, Huang suggested that acne vaccines that are "bacteria-specific" should mean side effects would be minimal.