Cell biologists of the University of Bonn, in cooperation with the University of Leeds (U.K.) and industry may have discovered a new effective therapy for psoriasis: a specific group of what are known as metalloproteinase inhibitors can normalise the increased tendency of epidermis cells (keratinocytes) to divide, which is the cause of this unpleasant lepidosis. The researchers were not able to detect any toxic side-effects, at least not in cell cultures. Their findings are now being published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (Vol. 123, No. 3).
About two million Germans suffer from psoriasis (from the Greek psora meaning 'itching, scratching'). In this incurable disease the regeneration of the epidermis is speeded up enormously: whereas it normally renews itself in just under four weeks, this period is cut to four to seven days in psoriasis patients. The reason is the greatly increased rate of cell division of the keratinocytes. They form a layer which separates the epidermis from the dermis, which lies beneath it. The ageing cells pass from this germinal layer to the surface until they finally scale off.
The disease progresses in waves. Its typical features are clearly defined red areas which are covered with silvery white scales. In the Middle Ages they were thought to be the symptoms of leprosy; a large number of the 'lepers' who were persecuted and even burnt were probably suffering from psoriasis, which is not contagious. What is worse than the changes to the skin itself is the stigma attached to the disease: 'During one of the periods when the disease is more intense many patients think that it is unreasonable to expect people to put up with their presence,' the Bonn cytobiologist Professor Volker Herzog explains. 'Some patients withdraw completely; depressions are not infrequent.'