Is Separating the Good Skin T Cells from the Bad Ones a Key to Treating Psoriasis and Vitiligo?


New molecules may selectively remove disease-causing T cells in the skin.

New research highlights ways to remove immune cells that cause autoimmune skin diseases such as psoriasis and vitiligo without affecting protective cells that fight infection and cancer.

Tissue-resident T cells or TRM cells fight infections and cancerous cells in the skin, but when they not controlled properly, some of these skin TRM cells can contribute to autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis and vitiligo.

“We discovered key differences in how distinct types of skin T cells are regulated, allowing us to precisely edit the skin’s immune landscape in a targeted way,” says University of Melbourne’s Dr Simone Park, an Honorary Research Fellow and former Postdoctoral Fellow in the Mackay Lab at the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia, in a news release.

University of Melbourne’s Dr Susan Christo, Senior Research Officer in the Mackay Lab at the Doherty Institute and co-first author of the study, explains how these discoveries could advance efforts to treat skin disease:  “Until now, we didn’t know how to pick apart ‘bad’ T cells in the skin from the ‘good’ protective ones. Through this research, we discovered new molecules that allow us to selectively remove disease-causing T cells in the skin.”

In the study published in Science, the research team harnessed this new knowledge to eliminate 'problematic' cells that can drive autoimmune disorders, while preserving the ‘good’ ones that are essential to maintain protective immunity.

“Skin conditions like psoriasis and vitiligo are difficult to treat long-term. The T cells driving disease are hard to remove, so patients often need life-long treatment,” adds University of Melbourne’s Professor Laura Mackay. “Our approach has the potential to revolutionise the way we treat these skin disorders, significantly improving outcomes for people dealing with challenging skin conditions.”

With the study demonstrating successful removal of specific skin T cells in animal models, further research is necessary to validate the efficacy of these strategies in human subjects. Dr Park hopes the study will inspire the development of new treatments for skin disease.

“These discoveries bring us one step closer to developing new drugs that durably prevent autoimmune skin disorders without compromising immune protection,” says Dr Park.

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