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Better acne treatments in sight after genetic discovery

Improved treatments for people with acne could be one step closer after researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute made a genetic discovery linked to the common skin disorder.

Acne is the world’s most prevalent skin disease. It can cause irreversible scarring, and severe forms have been associated with mental health disorders and diminished performance at work and school.

In the world’s largest genetic study of acne, QIMR Berghofer researcher Dr Miguel Renteria, who co-led the study with Professor Michael Simpson from King’s College London, uncovered 29 new genes that appear to increase a person’s risk of developing acne.

“This is a big leap forward in our understanding of the genetic basis and biological causes of acne, a condition that is estimated to affect more than 85 per cent of young people to some degree, with up to 8 per cent having severe disease,” Dr Renteria said. 

“These findings open up some very exciting pathways for the development of new and much-needed treatments for people with severe acne.” 

The study also confirmed a link between acne and hormonal cancers like breast and prostate cancer, identifying shared genetic causes.

QIMR Berghofer lead researcher Dr Brittany Mitchell said previous research had shown that people with severe acne are more likely to develop breast cancer, but this was the first study to find a common causal overlap.

“We need to investigate this relationship further, but it means severe acne could serve as an early sign to doctors that a patient should be checked or monitored, due to a higher risk of developing hormone-sensitive cancers,” Dr Mitchell said.

The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications (doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-28252-5).

Dr Mitchell said researchers would next examine genetic variations in men and women with acne, to understand why the condition can affect them differently and at which stages of their lives.