Researchers at Northwestern University believe they have found a way to cure skin diseases through a topical, gene-altering lotion.

"We like to treat skin diseases with topical creams so that we avoid side effects from treatments taken by mouth or injected," said Dr. Amy Paller, chair of dermatology and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Researchers face the challenge of successfully creating a cream that can penetrate the skin enough to treat diseases.

Study agents used nanotechnology to place gene-altering structures on top of gold particles targeting epidermal growth receptors.  These receptors are the markers related to various types of skin cancers. During this process, researchers were determined to penetrate the skin without eliciting an immune response.

"The problem is that our skin is a formidable barrier," Paller said.  "Genetic material can't get through the skin through regular means."

Researchers combined their compounds with the over the counter ointment, Aquafor, which is commonly used for skin irritation.

This study is the first of its kind to successfully offer topical gene therapy without toxic effects.

Although the study did not report any side effects, Dr. Mark Abdelmalek, chief of the division of laser and dermatologic surgery at Drexel University School of Medicine believes that this type of nanotechnology can cause long-term problems in the human body.

 "It's naive to expect that putting something like this in the body would have absolutely no side effects,” Abdelmalek said.

"It is temporarily changing the protein while the structure is in contact with the cells, but it doesn't permanently change the genetic defect," he said.  "This is all brand new and exciting, but there's still many things we just don't know."

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