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City Doctor Makes Strides on Stagnating Eczema Research

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Ten percent of adults and more than 10 percent of children in the U.S. have some form of eczema, with few options for treatment—but a new therapy discovered by one city doctor is in the works that effectively shuts off the skin irritation. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Medical School is hard enough, but for 25-year-old Neal Patel, studying for exams and completing rotations were even more burdensome as his childhood eczema returned in full force.

"You would have to just be very sterile. My hands would be really dry and I would put on the surgical gloves and sometimes in the middle of cases, I'd get so itchy on my hands and other parts of my body that you know, in my mind, I was going nuts," Patel says.

According to the National Eczema Association, about 31 million Americans have eczema—nearly 18 million with moderate to severe eczema, or atopic dermatitis.

Even with the large number of sufferers, though, there's been a lag in finding a cure for the disease.

"I think the numbers or the prevalence were not out there, particularly for adults, and I think drug companies were scared to deal with developing treatments for children," says Dr. Emma Guttman-Yassky, director of the Mount Sinai Hospital Center for Excellence in Eczema.

There's also an ongoing dispute over how to best treat eczema. Some point to a defect in the skin's protective outer layer allowing irritants and allergens to penetrate the skin.

Mount Sinai Dermatologist Emma Guttman-Yassky says it's more of an issue of immune activation, like what you see with psoriasis.

She's identified molecules causing the inflammation and irritation.

"So it’s not the defect in the barrier that causes the immune activation; it’s the immune activation that causes the barrier defect. This has a very important therapeutic relevance," Guttman-Yassky says.

Using antibodies, she's found a way to effectively shut off these troublesome molecules.

Patel is part of one of her clinical trials—and started seeing dramatic results a month into treatment.

"My skin is smoother, my skin is clearer and I’m itching a lot less," Patel says.

He's now working out more—no longer fearing the irritation of sweat—and made it through finals with fewer sleepless nights.

"I just feel great. My energy levels are back. I’m not using all my energy to, like, suppress this desire to control how my skin feels," says Patel.

Guttman-Yassky says it will take some time before the therapies are cleared by the FDA, but she says, it's definitely a new day for eczema sufferers.

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