New Wellcome Trust Fellowship aims to help improve lives of those with eczema

Understanding of different eczema subgroups and the condition’s links to major health and social problems, are to be explored in a new project by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The research will be led by Dr Sinéad Langan who has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellowship in Clinical Science worth £1.3m over five years. Senior Fellowships offer long-term support for clinical academics who are leaders in their fields and are seeking to carry out innovative research.

Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a condition that causes the skin to become itchy, dry, cracked and red. It affects one in five children and up to one in 10 adults, and can cause major discomfort and stress, including stigma. Eczema also has a wide social and economic impact - in 1996 it was estimated that the condition cost the UK £465m annually.

Eczema is commonly refered to as atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis, reflecting an individual’s susceptibility to allergy. However, up to two-thirds of eczema patients in the general population are not atopic and this over-simplification of the condition has led to a poor understanding of eczema and how best to target treatments.

Using a combination of rich population-based cohort data and electronic international health data, Dr Langan and her team have two goals. The first is to create new classifications of eczema subgroups to further our understanding of an individual’s susceptibility, devise more targeted treatment and better predict how patients will be affected in the long-term.

The second is to examine the links between eczema and major health conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Dr Langan’s team will also look at the impact of eczema on social, psychosocial and educational outcomes. There is currently limited knowledge on these associations - this research aims to offer new insight into the significant burden associated with eczema in adult life.

Dr Langan, Associate Professor at the School, said: “I am delighted to receive this fellowship to enable me to do this important research. Despite affecting nearly six million people in England, eczema is still a condition we know very little about. It can be very debilitating, and the stress and stigma associated with eczema are often overlooked.

“Over the next five years, we aim to make breakthroughs in our understanding of different subgroups of eczema, as well as uncovering any links between eczema and major health and social conditions. We hope this research will lead to developments that will help us move away from a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to better understanding and treating eczema.”

Previous studies have investigated the links between eczema and medical and social factors, but have often been limited to small sample sizes and a failure to control risk factors. Having access to detailed longitudinal data and millions of anonymised patient records, paves the way for Dr Langan and her team to conduct one of the largest studies of its kind.

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