shutterstock_276199169A new personalized approach to the diagnosis of eczema and other inflammatory skin disorders may change the way these common conditions are treated, according to pharmaceutical researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

In a nutshell, individual tests help create personalized treatments based on each person’s lipid deficiencies. Eczema and some other skin disorders can be caused by a deficiency in lipids in the skin, such as ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids.

Part of what makes eczema so difficult to treat, however, is that there are hundreds of lipids, serving various functions as a skin protector, barrier, or antimicrobial agent—and every individual has a slightly different lipid composition. Most of the moisturizers now available are just random compositions of lipids that may or may not help address what is missing in a given individual, says Arup Indra, PhD, an associate professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy.

The new system starts with sticking a piece of tape to the skin and then pulling it off, removing with it some skin cells. Those skin and lipid samples are then analyzed with sophisticated mass spectrometry in a process created at OSU that literally produces a “lipid fingerprint”—a measurement of that person’s skin and lipid profile. This profile can then be compared against those of healthy individuals, to help identify missing or deficient lipids that may be an underlying cause of the skin disorder.

From that, various products or other therapies can be developed that would help replace or increase the lipids that are deficient in a person.

“We believe it’s likely that supplementation with the lipids a person specifically needs will help address their skin problems and improve epidermal barrier function, and we plan to test that in continued research,” Indra says in a press release.

A patent has been applied for on this technology through OSU’s Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development, which is seeking further collaboration and support from private industry, to help bring these systems more rapidly to availability.

This research has been supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.