Atopic dermatitis (AD) isn’t a new condition, but new research is paving the way for better, more effective treatments. The latest research is reexamining underlying causes and exploring new medications.

A push for new research

For years, dermatology research focused on psoriasis. But AD is starting to get more attention. Here are a few examples of how AD research is making its way into research labs and the mainstream news:

  • A 2018 article in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology sought to find out more about the patient burden and quality of life of patients with AD in the United States. The researchers found that AD puts a heavy burden on a person’s lifestyle, social interactions, and day-to-day activities.
  • The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune reported on recent AD research from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). NIAID researchers found that when the skin of adults and children with AD were covered with bacteria called Roseomonas mucosa from the skin of healthy individuals, the severity of their symptoms and need for medication decreased. The researchers plan to test a few different bacterial species and fungi to find out which one works best.
  • A 2017 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology discusses the role of skin barrier abnormalities in early AD. The researchers suggest ways to potentially prevent AD. One way is to improve the integrity of the skin barrier, including the use of moisturizers.
  • A 2017 study highlighted new research on the underlying pathogenesis of AD. In the study, the researchers found out more information about how dysregulation of natural killer (NK) cells may promote the development of AD.
  • Another 2017 study looked at the role of hard water in the development of AD. The researchers analyzed data on nearly 53,000 children. They found that the prevalence of AD was higher in areas with the hardest household water. The study also revealed that being born in fall or winter was associated with early childhood AD. Further studies are needed to see if softening the water can reduce AD risk in infants.

New medications

  • Dupilumab (Dupixent) was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in March 2018. It is the first biologic agent approved to treat moderate to severe AD. Dupilumab is also in development for treating moderate to severe asthma. In two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, dupilumab improved the symptoms of AD compared with placebo. This included itchy skin (pruritus), anxiety and depression, and quality of life.
  • A recent phase II clinical trial evaluated an oral drug called baricitinib. In the trial, about 61 percent of patients with moderate to severe AD receiving baricitinib achieved a 50 percent or more reduction in the Eczema Area and Severity Index (EASI-50). This was compared to 37 percent of patients who received a placebo. Baricitinib is already approved by the FDA for rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Another study looked at a new treatment called nemolizumab in 216 adults with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis. All monthly doses of nemolizumab significantly improved pruritus in these patients during the course of the study.
  • In a 2015 study, 69 adults with AD were tested with a topical formulation of a drug called tofacitinib citrate. This drug is most often given orally to treat rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also used for psoriatic arthritis and ulcerative colitis. Tofacitinib citrate was shown to also have efficacy in people with AD. This was a very small study and more testing is needed. But the use of an RA medication in AD patients highlights some similarities. It suggests that AD functions more like an autoimmune disease than a surface-level skin disorder. More research to better understand these similarities should pave the way for new treatments.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials are a great option for people looking to try a new treatment. If you’re interested in participating in clinical trial for AD, the National Eczema Association (NEA) posts a current list on their website. By participating in clinical trials, you can help shape the future of AD treatment options.

The future of atopic dermatitis

It’s a promising time for AD research. There’s a public demand for more information, and researchers have taken an active interest in providing solutions. Based on current research and clinical studies, the outlook for AD patients is promising.

There are new medications and treatments on the horizon. Researchers are starting to treat AD like an autoimmune disease, which has opened a new realm of possibilities.