What kind of research is being carried out on psoriasis?
Three key areas of research include:
- Investigating how and why psoriasis runs in certain families (the genetic link)
- Understanding the connections between the immune system, inflammation, and psoriasis
- Learning more about the role of skin cells in psoriasis
- Understanding the relationships between psoriasis and other conditions
All of these avenues of research have the overall aim of finding better ways to treat, control, and manage psoriasis in order to improve the quality of life of patients living with the condition.
Psoriasis and genetics
It is well known that people are more likely to develop psoriasis if they have one or more family members with the condition. The set of genes that make a person more likely to develop psoriasis are passed down through families. So far, researchers believe they have identified around 50% of those genes.
An ongoing research project called the National Psoriasis Victor Henschel BioBank was started in 2006. The project was designed to collect thousands of DNA samples containing the genes of people who have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Researchers use these samples to continue to study the genes and to find out more about why some people who have the genes develop psoriasis, while others do not1. For example, people with a certain combination of these genes may have a greater chance of developing the condition than people who have a different combination of the genes.
Understanding more about the genetics of psoriasis will help researchers to understand how a specific person’s psoriasis is likely to develop and change over time. This will also help to predict which types of medications and treatments are more likely to help control that person’s specific type of psoriasis2.
Another new area of research related to psoriasis and genetics is focused on the symptom of itching. Researchers are searching for genes in a person’s nervous system that are linked to the process that causes itching. This may lead to further understanding of why some people experience more severe itching than other people do, and could potentially lead to new types of treatment to relieve itching3.
Skin cells and psoriasis
Both skin cells and immune system cells are involved in psoriasis. Another area of research is examining these types of cells and how they interact. For example, immune cells directly affect skin cells during the process that causes psoriasis symptoms. Some researchers are examining the process by which skin cells create healthy skin and comparing it to the process by which skin cells cause plaques in people with psoriasis3. It is hoped that this will lead to better understanding the two processes and discovering a way to interrupt or stop the process that causes plaques.
The immune system, inflammation, and psoriasis
Psoriasis is a condition with symptoms that are the result of a person’s overactive immune system. Researchers know that cells called “T cells” in the immune system trigger unnecessary chronic inflammation in the person’s skin, which in turn causes too many skin cells to develop too quickly before the older skin cells can be shed naturally.
Current research is focused on looking for new types of treatment that will stop or reduce this immune system reaction1. There are treatments already available that target the immune system, but many of them have an impact on the person’s entire immune system, not just the part of the immune system related to psoriasis. These drugs are very powerful and can cause serious side effects.
Researchers hope to develop new treatments that only affect the part of the immune system that causes psoriasis symptoms, for example, the activity of T cells and proteins that cause inflammation2. These treatments would not affect the rest of the immune system, thus reducing the risk of side effects while targeting the psoriasis inflammation process more powerfully and specifically.
Psoriasis and related conditions
Another key area of research is focused on other health conditions that appear to be related to psoriasis in some way because people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis have a higher risk of developing them3. These related conditions include:
- Heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions related to the heart and blood vessels
- Type 2 diabetes
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Certain kinds of cancers
- Obesity and metabolic syndrome
Researchers already believe that many of these related conditions are linked, at least in part, to the immune system and inflammation. Understanding more about how and why these conditions are related will help to develop new and better treatment regimens, particularly for people who have one or more of the conditions. It may also help to discover more risk factors and to identify ways that people with psoriasis may be able to reduce their risk of developing the conditions.