Acne is a dreaded rite of passage for many teens. But future generations might get to skip this miserable experience, thanks to newly discovered gene variants associated with acne that scientists think might hold the key to developing better treatments.
“Although there are some suitable acne treatments out there, there is no treatment that works for everyone, and some people can develop serious side effects to some treatments,” says Miguel Rentería, PhD, a researcher at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia, and coauthor of a new study exploring the genetic links to acne.
Some parents of teenagers may recall when the acne treatment Accutane (isotretinoin) was linked to miscarriages and severe birth defects in the 1980s. And other acne medications, such as topical corticosteroids and benzoyl peroxide, can cause allergic reactions, including skin irritation, blisters, and open sores.
Genetic Data Collected From More Than 600,000 People Worldwide
The new study, published in February 2022 in Nature Communications, examined genetic data collected from more than 20,000 people with acne worldwide, as well as more than 595,000 people without the skin condition.
Scientists identified 29 new gene variants associated with acne. They also confirmed 14 of 17 variants previously linked to the skin condition.
Many of the genes identified as common in people with acne are also associated with other skin and hair conditions, scientists reported. This might help researchers get a clearer picture of what causes acne, aiding the effort to find better treatments.
More Genetic Risk, More Likelihood of Severe Breakouts
The researchers also found that people with the most genetic risk for acne were more prone to severe breakouts. While additional research is needed to confirm this finding, scientists say it might help identify people who are at risk of severe acne, allowing them to get preventive treatment before breakouts flare up.
“Whether or not someone gets acne, and its severity, depends on a combination of factors, including differences in genetic predisposition, lifestyle, and even environmental elements, such as climate and pollution,” Dr. Rentería says.
Genetic factors may explain up to 80 percent of differences in acne risk, he adds.
This means that understanding which gene variants are linked to acne will go a long way in the effort to develop better treatments, researchers say.
New Treatments Are Still a Ways Off
But teens today may very well have kids of their own before the development of new acne therapies targeting specific gene variants gets under way.
“Our study provides the initial insights into the causal biology that I am confident will trigger interest and investment in the development of new therapeutics for acne,” says Michael Simpson, PhD, a genetics professor at King’s College London and senior author of the new acne study.
“I am hopeful that we will begin to see the development of the next generation of acne therapeutics in the next 10 years,” he says.