Scientists from Emory University of Medicine, Atlanta have successfully treated mice displaying symptoms of psoriasis using compounds isolated from fire ant venom. The breakthrough offers hope for sufferers of the condition.
Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin disorder that results from the rapid build-up of cells on the surface of the skin. This build-up manifests itself in dry, red and irritated patches that may itch or cause pain and discomfort. Breakouts often occur on elbows, knees, the lower back and scalp. The exact cause of psoriasis is unknown and there appears to be no known cure.
According to the Daily Mail, Kim Kardashian is a sufferer of psoriasis, and as a result, the condition has shot to fame in recent times. However, although it may seem incomprehensible, she is just one of the 100 million worldwide sufferers of this loathsome disease. In the US, it affects 1–2% of the population.
Psoriasis symptoms can be managed and current treatments include steroid-based creams and exposure of the skin to UV light. However, both treatments have their own inherent problems such as thinning and bruising of the skin.
According to the study, affected areas on mice were treated with a topical application of a cream containing two particular solenopsin analogs. And although it may seem counter intuitive to treat a skin irritation with the active components of venom, there was a notable reduction in skin thickening and inflammation— two of the more common symptoms of psoriasis.
Solenopsins chemically resemble compounds known as ceramides. Ceramides are known to maintain the barrier function, or the protective capacity of skin, and are often found in many skin care products for that very reason. The two solenopsin analogs appear to be following the same path in terms of therapeutic action, and this may the reason for their observed effectiveness. “We believe that solenopsin analogs are contributing to full restoration of the barrier function in the skin,” Jack Arbiser, Professor of dermatology at Emory University School of Medicine, explains.
Arbiser and his team also monitored relevant gene activity over the course of the treatment. This is because certain genetic responses, as Arbiser relates, serve as “a mechanism of resistance to anti-psoriasis therapy.” These ‘mechanisms of resistance’ limit the effectiveness of some treatments and would obviously need to be monitored during the trials.
However, these limiting genetic reactions were not observed during treatment of the psoriasis with solenopsins. Solenopsin based therapy, therefore, seems to be a far more effective option. If nothing else, “it suggests that the solenopsin compounds could be used in combination with existing approaches,” Arbiser said.
A recent article published by WIRED entitled, “Why Those Floating Fire Ant Colonies in Texas Are Such Bad News,” reported on ‘rafts’ of menacing, bite-ready fire ants that had been spotted floating around in floodwaters in Houston, Texas after hurricane Harvey. The article also explained how fire ants are a pesky invasive species that arrived in Texas in the 1950s. Overall, these little guys copped a bad rap.
Almost overnight, however, the fire ant has gone from enemy to ‘frienemy’. Redemptively, and rather ironically, the fire ant venom could soon have a far more beneficial and noble purpose— the effective medical treatment of human psoriasis.