It is a condition that has tormented teenagers for generations, but now scientists are on the brink of finding a cure for acne.
Pimples and blemishes have long been considered an unpleasant but largely unavoidable part of adolescence. In more extreme cases, acne can be extremely painful, leave permanent scars and destroy sufferers’ confidence and social lives.
However, researchers at the University of Dundee are working to develop an inexpensive and effective treatment for the world’s most common skin condition.
Maurice van Steensel, a professor of genetic dermatology, believes that his research will ensure that unsightly breakouts become a thing of the past.
“The future is pretty bright for acne sufferers. I’m confident that we will come up with something within the next five years,” he said.
“Our goal is to produce something cheap that people could put on their faces that would keep them from getting acne in the first place or, if they already have acne, to treat it properly.
“It will be something that you don’t need to put on your face every day and not have to use for very long.”
Professor Steensel has been collaborating with the Institute of Medical Biology in Singapore to pinpoint the exact causes of acne. The next stage will be to test drugs on organoids — mini sebaceous glands created using an artificially grown mass of cells — at the National Phenotypic Screening Centre, the £8 million biomedical research hub that opened in Dundee in 2015.
“Already the model we have can quantify how a sebaceous gland will behave, its size, cell number and productivity. We can put numbers to all of that. If the drugs do what I’m expecting them to do we might well have something new for acne,” Professor Steensel said.
Professor Steensel, an associate principal of the university’s drug discovery unit, claimed that the condition had been overlooked by scientists. He said: “There is pretty good data out there that says that acne will interfere in your ability to enter into any type of meaningful relationship and can even prevent you from gaining employment. It’s serious.
“The problem is that because it doesn’t kill you it isn’t on the radar of major funding organisations. As a result there hasn’t been any real innovation in treatments since 1975 and sufferers have been left out in the cold.”
Professor Steensel is keen to dispel the belief that spots are triggered by poor hygiene, saying: “The data shows that people with acne do not have more bacteria than people without acne. However, there is some anecdotal evidence that diet can play a role. It is important that people know there are options.”