Itching is one of the most irritating and uncontrollable sensations that can, at times, drive a person crazy if they have certain skin conditions. A new study, however, shows that itching can be quickly relieved by shining a light on the skin.
Carried out by researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Rome, Italy, the study experimented with mice who stopped itching after undergoing the treatment and scratched less.
Scientists called the results of the experiment “exciting” because it gives hope to those who suffer from chronic skin diseases like eczema and psoriasis that can cause uncontrollable and painful itching.
As reported by the Daily Mail, many patients who suffer from skin disorders that cause itching describe it as not only annoying but even debilitating. And although people can get temporary relief from itching by scratching their skins, the act can cause skin damage and inflammation, which, in turn, creates a vicious cycle.
At present, the only way to get relief from itchy skin is to apply emollients and moisturizers. The application of creams cannot, however, target the root cause of itching as — despite years of research — scientists are still trying to figure out what drives a chronic itch at a cellular level.
The current research at EMBL set out to target the root cause of an itch in hopes of finding a new cure. As reported by New Atlas, researchers developed a light-activated medication to be injected into the skin.
Led by Paul Heppenstall and Linda Nocchi, the Rome team developed an injectable chemical that binds only to those cells that trigger the sensation of itching.
Per New Atlas, as soon as the chemical is exposed to harmless near-infrared light – through the skin – it causes the cells to withdraw from the skin’s surface. In the process, other nerve cells, such as those that allow people to feel sensations of heat, cold, pain, or vibrations, are not affected.
During the experiment, mice that suffered from eczema and a genetic skin disease called amyloidosis were treated with the chemical and they stopped itching for “up to several months.” Scientists are now planning to test the chemicals on humans.
“We hope that one day, our method will be able to help humans suffering from a disease like eczema, which causes chronic itching,” Dr. Heppenstall said. “We want to collaborate with industry partners to develop therapies for humans, but also for veterinary medicine, as itch is a major problem in dogs as well.”
The research was published this week in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.