Eczema is an itchy, dry-skin condition that affects around one in five children in Ireland. Genes play an important role in determining how likely individuals are to develop eczema, but the majority of the genes that cause the condition have yet to be detected.
However, in the largest genetic study of eczema in the world to date, a group of international researchers involving scientists from Trinity College Dublin has now combined data on 377,000 participants involved in 40 research studies worldwide.
The team used a technique called ‘genome-wide association analysis’ to look at the genomes of these 377,000 people, to identify small changes (variants) in the genes that were commonly found in people with eczema. They found 10 new variants, which brings the total number of variants known to be related to eczema to 31.
What all these new genetic variants have in common is a role in regulating our immune system, which means they highlight potential new targets for therapeutic research for eczema.
The researchers also found some evidence of genetic overlap between eczema and other diseases like inflammatory bowel disease. This suggests that studying these diseases together in the future could give important insights into the mechanisms of disease and potentially identify new treatments.
The Trinity group involved in this research is led by Professor of Dermatology in the School of Medicine, Dr Alan Irvine.
He said: “These new findings, gained through international collaboration with hundreds of thousands of patients in multiple countries show the importance of genes in both the immune system and the skin barrier in the causation of eczema.”
Dr Paternoster of Bristol University added: “Though the genetic variants identified in this current study represent only a small proportion of the risk for developing eczema (they are in no way deterministic, rather they slightly increase your risk), they do give new insights into important disease mechanisms and through on-going research in this area these findings could be turned into treatments of the future.”