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New Research Shows Why Older People More Susceptible to Skin Infections

Posted: September 8, 2009

English researchers have discovered a defective immunity in the cells of older people that would help them fight off skin infections, raising the possibility for new treatments.

Scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have discovered why older people may be so vulnerable to cancer and infections in the skin. The team from UCL has shown in human volunteers that defective immunity in the skin is caused by an inability to mobilize essential defenses that would otherwise recognize threats and clear them before irreparable damage is done.

This discovery could be important for preventing, managing or treating many age-related skin health problems. The study has been published in August 31 edition of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

"Older people are very prone to having infections generally and our studies in the skin of such subjects identifies one reason for this," said Professor Arne Akbar from UCL, who led the study. "It's actually incredibly difficult to get to the root of exactly which mechanisms cause the diseases that show up as a factor of old age. We wanted to uncover the workings of skin health in order to see why older people don't deal well with skin infections and are prone to skin cancers also."

It has been known for some time that older people have compromised immunity and therefore defend themselves less well against infection and disease than younger people. In the past, the reduction in skin health was put down to potential defects in the white blood cells called T-cells that would usually help to identify and clear infection.