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Virus Treatment Could Target Acne

Viruses that kill acne-causing bacteria show promise in the lab as a potential acne treatment. Sophie Bushwick reports

It's easy to see acne sufferers from afar. But it's not so easy to see the bacteria that trigger their skin inflammation. Now, researchers hope to clear out those bacteria, and clear up the acne, with viruses. The work is in the journal mBio. [Laura J. Marinelli et al., Propionibacterium acnes Bacteriophages Display Limited Genetic Diversity and Broad Killing Activity against Bacterial Skin Isolates]

Many thriving microbe communities inhabit the human face. There is, for example, the pimple-producing species Propionibacterium acnes. Some antibiotic acne treatments have been used so widely that these bacteria have developed resistance. Other treatments cause unpleasant side effects.

But there are viruses that target the bacteria, called phages. Researchers isolated 11 phages from people with and without acne, and sequenced the viral genomes. Phages are generally a diverse bunch, but these viruses were close relatives to each other—which makes sense, as they all evolved to attack bacteria that live in a specific environment: facial hair follicles.

When pitted against the facial bacteria in the lab, the viruses easily mopped up their acne-causing foes. Which may make the phages good candidates for acne treatment—a treatment that might truly go viral.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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