Researchers Develop Safe Eczema Testing For Newborns

BY Lily Kelly TIMESeptember 21, 2022 PRINT

Researchers have developed a non-invasive eczema test for newborns, which analyses skin immune biomarkers to provide an accurate diagnosis of the condition during the baby’s first two years of life.

According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), eczema is a condition where the skin does not retain moisture, causing it to dry out easily. The dry skin is more accessible to allergens and irritants, which can trigger the skin to release chemicals that make the skin feel itchy. However, scratching the skin only causes more chemicals to be released, which makes the skin even itchier.

The condition affects 20 percent of children below the age of two and can cause not only itchiness but also redness and infections.

The Barrier dysfunction in Atopic newBorns study or BABY study, for short,  analysed 450 babies, 150 of which were born pre-term or before 37 weeks of pregnancy, to examine the efficacy of using immune biomarkers and the skin barrier to predict the onset of eczema as well as the severity of the condition during the first two years of the patient’s life.

Immune biomarkers, according to the National Library of Medicine, are medical indicators that are measured, without influence from feelings or opinions, to ascertain different medical states or responses to an intervention. Biomarkers can be made up of nucleic acids, proteins, metabolites, and even images, but they must consistently be measurable and recordable.

Epoch Times Photo
Researchers analysed 450 babies to examine the efficacy of an immune biomarkers test that can predict eczema onset as well as the severity of the condition. (Blend Images – Mike Kemp/Tetra images/Getty Images)

The study then examined the baby’s Thymus and Activation-Regulated Chemokine (TARC) levels by applying tape strips to the patient’s hand or, if the baby is born preterm, between their shoulder blades, to painlessly and noninvasively remove skin samples. These samples can be analysed for immune biomarkers.

The researchers discovered that regardless of whether the baby was carried to term or born early, participants were twice as likely to develop eczema before the age of two if they had elevated TARC levels at two months old.

The increased risk of developing the condition, which was observed in babies with elevated TARC levels, remained after the researchers adjusted for predisposing factors such as parental atopy and filaggrin gene mutations.

Parental atopy refers to a hereditary sensitivity in the immune system that causes a genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases such as asthma and eczema. Filaggrin proteins are essential in the formation of the skin barrier as they facilitate the strengthening, flattening, and binding of keratinocytes, the main type of cell in the epidermis—the outermost layer of skin. Mutations in these proteins are a significant predisposing factor for eczema.

The study also found a positive association between TARC level and eczema severity.

Impact of Finding

Author and coresearcher of the study, Dr Anne-Sofie Halling, from the Bispebjerg Hospital at Copenhagen University, said in a PR Newswire that this study might be the first to illustrate that skin can predict atopic eczema.

“To our knowledge, this is the first to show that non-invasively collected skin biomarkers can be used to predict the subsequent onset and severity of paediatric atopic eczema.”

“The study will help us investigate and create future preventative strategies for children with elevated TARC levels to help stop the development of this common and debilitating disease, which is an exciting prospect.”

Halling said that this painless and easy-to-perform test could assist in identifying the skin changes that happen before eczema development, particularly in the case of the most severe forms of the condition.

“This provides a window of opportunity to develop targeted trials and prevent cases of eczema from occurring,” Halling said.

Questions Around Clinical Efficacy

However, Dr. Li-Chuen Wong from the Australasian College of Dermatologists and the Sydney Skin Clinic has said that the test shouldn’t yet be performed on babies at the hospital when they are born.

“This exciting but very new research is very much still in the developmental phase, and we need to see how clinically relatable it will be,” Wong said.

“If further research and testing proves that it will predict both onset and severity of eczema, then it might be worth doing early on in life, at birth or shortly after.”

She said that it is definitely important to diagnose eczema early in the patient’s life. 

“This will help with not only controlling symptoms such as itch but with effective treatment, there is a chance that the progression of eczema can be halted, with the return of integrity of the skin barrier,” she said.

“It is very unusual except in the mildest of cases that eczema will get better without treatment.”

Eczema causes not only itchiness, but also redness and infections. (Ternavskaia Olga Alibec/Shutterstock)

Importance of Early Diagnosis

In an email to The Epoch Times, the President of the Eczema Association of Australasia, Cheryl Talent, said that in Australia, many babies exhibit eczema quite early as the rates of babies suffering from the condition are very high. She said that Australia is one of the highest allergy places in the world.

“Early diagnosis is important so that the condition is treated correctly right from the start. Many parents visit their GP for a diagnosis but often not enough information for successful treatment and management is given,” she said.

“Any form of assistance with a correct diagnosis for health practitioners to rely on is always a great improvement which can hopefully help lead to better treatment options.”

“For many babies, their eczema flares get progressively worse, and we know this is tied into a genetic predisposition and building up their own immune system,” Talent said.

She said that currently, there is no cure for eczema, but managing the condition with treatments is achievable.

“Those babies who are not treated appropriately can really suffer—itchiness, sleeplessness, skin infection, irritability as eczema is one of the most uncomfortable and stressful skin conditions to live with,” Talent said.

“Not only do the babies suffer, but their parents alongside them. Many babies ‘grow out’ of their eczema by around three years old, but some persist in having serious skin issues throughout their childhood.”

Lily Kelly
Lily Kelly is an Australian based reporter for The Epoch Times, she covers social issues, renewable energy, the environment and health and science.
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