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Study identifies skin biomarkers that predict newborn eczema risk



It might be possible to develop a simple test to identify newborn children who are at risk of later developing atopic dermatitis (AD), according to findings from a Danish prospective birth cohort study.

In the study, the Barrier Dysfunction in Atopic Newborns Study (BABY), several biomarkers were found in the skin cells of newborns that were predictive not only for having AD but also for having more severe disease.

“We are able to identify predictive immune biomarkers of atopic dermatitis using a noninvasive method that was not associated with any pain,” one of the study’s investigators, Anne-Sofie Halling, MD, said at a press briefing at the annual congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.

“Importantly, we were able to predict atopic dermatitis occurring months after [sample] collection,” said Dr. Halling, who works at Bispebjerg Hospital and is a PhD student at the University of Copenhagen.

These findings could hopefully be used to help identify children “so that preventive strategies can target these children ... and decrease the incidence of this common disease,” she added.

AD is caused “by a complex interplay between skin barrier dysfunction and immune dysregulation,” Dr. Halling said, and it is “the first step in the so-called atopic march, where children also develop food allergy, asthma, and rhinitis.” Almost all cases of AD begin during the first years of life. Approximately 15%-20% of children can be affected, she noted, emphasizing the high burden of the disease and pointing out that strategies are shifting toward trying to prevent the disease in those at risk.

Copenhagen BABY cohort

This is where the BABY study comes in, Dr. Halling said. The study enrolled 450 children at birth and followed them until age 2 years. Gene mutation testing was performed at enrollment. All children underwent skin examination, and skin samples were taken using tape strips. Tape strips were applied to the back of the hand of children born at term and between the shoulder blades on the back of children who were premature.

Skin examinations were repeated, and skin samples were obtained again at age 2 months. They were taken again only if there were any signs of AD. For those diagnosed with AD, disease severity was assessed using the Eczema Area and Severity Index (EASI) by the treating physician. Children were excluded if they had AD at the time the tape strip testing was due to be performed.

Comparing term and preterm children

Dr. Halling noted that analyses were performed separately for the 300 children born at term and for the 150 who were preterm.

The prevalence of AD was higher among children born at term than among the preterm children (34.6% vs. 21.2%), and the median time to onset was shorter (6 months vs. 8 months). There were also differences in the EASI scores among those who developed AD; median scores were higher in the children born at term than in the preterm children (4.1 vs. 1.6).

More children born at term than preterm children had moderate to severe AD (23.3% vs. 8%), Dr. Halling reported.


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