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Research on 377,000 people worldwide highlights the role of genes in eczema

Press release issued: 19 October 2015

Eczema – an itchy dry-skin condition – affects an estimated one in five children and one in 12 adults in the UK. Genes play an important role in determining how likely we are to develop eczema but the majority of the genes that cause the condition have yet to be detected.

Now, in the largest genetic study of eczema in the world to date, a group of international researchers led by Dr Lavinia Paternoster from the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol (UK), has combined data on 377,000 participants involved in 40 research studies worldwide, including the Bristol-based Children of the 90s (ALSPAC).

The team used a technique called 'genome-wide association analysis' to look at the genomes of these 377,000 people and to identify small changes (variants) in the genes commonly found in people with eczema. They found 10 new variants, bringing the total number of variants known to be related to eczema to 31.

What all these new genetic variants have in common is that they all play a role in regulating our immune system, highlighting potential new targets for therapeutic research for eczema.

The researchers also found some evidence of genetic overlap between eczema and other diseases like inflammatory bowel disease. This suggests that studying these diseases together in the future could give important insights into the mechanisms of disease and potentially identify new treatments.

Speaking about the discovery, Dr Paternoster said: "Though the genetic variants identified in this current study represent only a small proportion of the risk for developing eczema (they are in no way deterministic, rather they slightly increase your risk), they do give new insights into important disease mechanisms and through on-going research in this area these findings could be turned into treatments of the future."

Dr Sara Brown, an academic dermatologist who contributed to the research from the University of Dundee, said: "Eczema runs in families so we know that genetic factors are an important part of the cause. The very large numbers of participants in this research has allowed us to 'fine-tune' our understanding of eczema genetic risk, providing more detail on how the skin immune system can go wrong in eczema."


'Multi-ancestry genome-wide association study of 21,000 cases and 95,000 controls identifies new risk loci for atopic dermatitis' by Dr Lavinia Paternoster et al in Nature Genetics

Further information

About Children of the 90s

Based at the University of Bristol, Children of the 90s, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), is a long-term health-research project that enrolled more than 14,000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. It has been following the health and development of the parents and their children in detail ever since and is currently recruiting the children and siblings of the original children into the study. It receives core funding from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol. 

About the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit

The MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit (IEU) is a research unit based at the University of Bristol with funding from the Medical Research Council. It uses genetics, population data and experimental interventions to look for the underlying causes of chronic disease. 

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