Skip to main content
Move the World.
Spraying Bacteria to Treat Eczema
A scientist demonstrates application of the experimental therapy to the inner elbow. For demonstration purposes, the bacteria solution has been replaced with purple dye. Credit: NIAID

Your skin (like all your organs) is covered with a flourishing ecosystem of bacteria, called the microbiome. These microbes play a vital but underappreciated role in regulating your health and immune system all over your body, and a new experiment suggests that altering skin microbiome could be the key to chronic eczema. The clinical results show that applying live, naturally occurring bacteria from healthy people's skin can hugely reduce the severity of the disease, even after the treatments stop. If the healthy bacteria can be made to flourish on their own, it's possible the treatment could even become self-sustaining.

Microbiome 101: Something like half of the cells in your body aren't "yours"—they don't contain your DNA, and they aren't human. Some are nasty pathogens but the vast majority are friendly, symbiotic bacteria that have evolved to work with our cells to keep all of "us" healthy. Our natural gut microbes help us digest food and absorb nutrients, among other things; strong antibiotics sometimes cause diarrhea because they attack the good gut bacteria along with the infection. Microbiomes are also thought to help calibrate our immune systems to recognize the bad guys and avoid attacking innocent microbial bystanders or our own cells.

Eczema Is the Worst: Sometimes, this system gets out of whack. Either the right mix of bacteria is out of balance, or a bad strain of a bacteria takes over and crowds out the good ones. Doctors at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) think this could explain what's going on with a common type of eczema called atopic dermatitis. This condition afflicts millions of adults and children in the United States, and the causes are diverse. Genes, allergies, and environmental irritants have all been implicated. But scientists noticed that people with the disease have an unusually large amount of Staphylococcus aureus on their skin, a common bacterium that causes infections and inflammation that makes skin red, swollen, and itchy. They theorized that an imbalanced microbiome could cause a surplus of bad bacteria and a shortage of the good bacteria that keep skin hydrated and healthy.

We aim to alter the skin microbiome in away that will relieve symptoms and freepeople from the burden of constanttreatment.

Dr. Ian MylesAssistant Clinical Investigator, NIAID

The Treatment: Mouse experiments suggested that increasing a naturally occurring skin bacteria called Roseomonas mucosa could alleviate the symptoms of the disease, like dryness, itching, rashes, and infections. The bacteria only helped if the R. mucosa strain was taken from healthy people's microbiome, while the same bacteria from eczema sufferers actually made the condition worse. Now, human trials are showing that cultures of R. mucosa can significantly reduce the severity of the disease, just by spraying a solution of bacteria on the skin. The study was small (just ten adults and five children) but the effects were large. A majority of participants reported a better than 50% improvement in their condition. Several patients reported needing fewer steroids even after the trial ended, and there were no reported side effects.

How Does It Work? Skin tests on the children showed that the therapy seems to cut down the population of S. aureus on the treated skin, implying good bacteria might crowd out the bad. Scientists also found that the different strains of R. mucosa produced different chemicals that either irritated skin cells or helped them maintain a healthy barrier. Larger placebo-controlled trials are needed, but the hope is that by rebalancing the living ecosystem on the surface of the skin, doctors could permanently improve patients' conditions, reducing the need for other expensive, ongoing treatments.

Up Next

Genetics
Gene Therapy Restores Youthful Eye Cells — and Vision — to Older Mice
sight restoration
Genetics
Gene Therapy Restores Youthful Eye Cells — and Vision — to Older Mice
A team of researchers have achieved sight restoration in older mice and those modeling glaucoma, in what could be an important step in understanding aging.

A team of researchers have achieved sight restoration in older mice and those modeling glaucoma, in what could be an important step in understanding aging.

Biology
It's Now Easier To See Individual Atoms, Thanks To New Tech
electron microscopy
Biology
It's Now Easier To See Individual Atoms, Thanks To New Tech
With improved tech, two teams have sharpened cryo-electron microscopy to be able to see individual atoms.

With improved tech, two teams have sharpened cryo-electron microscopy to be able to see individual atoms.

Climate Change
Raising Pacific Islands to Save Them From High Sea Levels
sea level rise
Climate Change
Raising Pacific Islands to Save Them From High Sea Levels
The president of Kiribati announced a new plan to fight against sea level rise: raise the islands.

The president of Kiribati announced a new plan to fight against sea level rise: raise the islands.

Dope Science
Scientists Want To Study Your At-Home Psychedelic Mushroom Experiences
Psychedelic Mushrooms
Dope Science
Scientists Want To Study Your At-Home Psychedelic Mushroom Experiences
Scientists are looking for people planning to trip on psychedelic mushrooms for a new study focused on people’s “real-world” experiences with psilocybin.

Scientists are looking for people planning to trip on psychedelic mushrooms for a new study focused on people’s “real-world” experiences with psilocybin.

Medicine
Researchers Create Blueprint for the “Love Hormone” Receptor
love hormone
Medicine
Researchers Create Blueprint for the “Love Hormone” Receptor
The shape of the love hormone receptor is finally revealed in a 3D map created by researchers at the University of Zurich.

The shape of the love hormone receptor is finally revealed in a 3D map created by researchers at the University of Zurich.

Science
The Ebola Vaccine Is Still Working 2 Years Later
The Ebola Vaccine Is Still Working 2 Years Later
Science
The Ebola Vaccine Is Still Working 2 Years Later
The vaccine works great at preventing infection—let’s hope it can also prevent media panic too.

The vaccine works great at preventing infection—let’s hope it can also prevent media panic too.

The New Space Race
What a Controversial Asteroid Mission Tells Us About U.S. Space Policy
What a Controversial Asteroid Mission Tells Us About U.S. Space Policy
The New Space Race
What a Controversial Asteroid Mission Tells Us About U.S. Space Policy
Billions spent on projects of questionable benefit - like the plan to capture an asteroid - raises the question:...
By Mike Riggs

Billions spent on projects of questionable benefit - like the plan to capture an asteroid - raises the question: Should NASA take a back seat in the 21st century space race?

The New Space Race
Four Flights a Day. Five Days a Week.
Four Flights a Day. Five Days a Week.
Watch Now
The New Space Race
Four Flights a Day. Five Days a Week.
At XCOR, the dream of taking regular commercial flights to space is alive and well.
Watch Now

At its peak, NASA’s shuttle flew to space a few times a year. XCOR wants to be something more like Southwest Airlines for space. They're working on a spacecraft prototype with a very ambitious goal: four daily flights to space, five days a week. If XCOR is successful, they could take more people to space in six months than NASA did in 30 years.

Science
How to Rebuild a Broken Brain
How to Rebuild a Broken Brain
Science
How to Rebuild a Broken Brain
The unbelievable story of the day Jordan Riley was declared brain dead and his journey of re-learning how to be human.
By Mike Riggs

The unbelievable story of the day Jordan Riley was declared brain dead and his journey of re-learning how to be human.