The body's own natural defences could be harnessed in a potential new treatment for eczema, scientists have found.
A new study discovered a way to instruct skin cells to produce a protective substance people with eczema typically lack.
Researchers hope the breakthrough will help prevent or create new treatments for atopic eczema, which affects about one in five children and one in 20 adults in the UK.
Also called atopic dermatitis, the condition causes distressing itchy lesions that can lead to broken skin with increased susceptibility to infection. It can have a severe impact on people's lives, work and sleep.
Conventional treatment with steroid creams can have side effects, and become less effective over time, which a natural therapy may avoid.
Eczema sufferers are at greater risk of carrying bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus on their skin, which can infect skin lesions and cause damage to the skin barrier.
They also typically do not produce a naturally-occurring protective compound in their skin cells known as human beta-defensin 2 (hBD2).
Researchers discovered the compound is vital in preventing damage to the skin barrier caused by Staphylococcus aureus.
They found that when hBD2 was applied to skin cells grown in the lab, it helped the skin to remain intact, with the cells strengthening protection against the bacterial damage like reinforcing mortar between the bricks in a wall.
Dr Donald J. Davidson, an MRC research fellow at the University of Edinburgh's MRC centre for inflammation research, who led the study, said: "This is a great chance to work with something that the body makes naturally to develop new therapies for atopic eczema, which affects so many people's lives."
The study is published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.