In July 2011, Keeping Up with The Kardashians, a reality TV show, released a video that surprised fans. Kim Kardashian was diagnosed with psoriasis, a skin condition she shares with her “mom-ager,” Kris Jenner. Since her diagnosis, Kim has tried a variety of remedies including drinking spring water from Costa Rica, seaweed based beauty products, applying breast milk to her skin, and most recently, Ultraviolet light therapy.
A common autoimmune disorder that causes red, scaly, itchy patches on the skin, psoriasis is caused by skin cells reproducing too quickly, creating the patches that resemble a rash or allergic reaction. The disorder usually emerges in young adults and things like stress or illness can trigger the condition. There are many injectable and oral medications, creams, and other topical treatments to help prevent flare-ups and reduce itchiness but there currently is no cure for the condition.
In January 2018 Kardashian announced to her 60 million Twitter followers that Ultraviolet B (UVB) Phototherapy was working to reduce her flare-ups and all but one patch was gone. UVB Phototherapy stems from the theory that sunlight in moderation improves psoriasis, but in removing harmful rays, the UVB therapy allows for more targeted healing. In one study, scientists used mice given medication to induce psoriasis to test the effectiveness of narrowband—a specific wavelength of UV radiation—UVB rays. After 6 days, the scientists saw significant improvement in the mice receiving the UVB treatment. The physician-administered treatment was approved by the FDA in 2008 and in 2018 an at-home phototherapy device was approved. Kardashian isn’t the only celebrity to suffer from psoriasis.
Actress Katie Lowes, who plays Quinn Perkins on the ABC network show “Scandal,” also has the condition. In an interview with the LA Times, Lowes indicated that medications and a “clean diet” (mainly vegetables and protein) with minimal alcohol, dairy, and sugar helps manage her flare-ups. There has been a lot of research into different treatments for psoriasis, including diets, with contributions of animal models such as mice, rats, guinea pigs, and pigs. A study with mice showed that high fat diets can exacerbate psoriasis, causing more or worse flare-ups. The study compared mice given a no fat diet and mice given a high fat diet, and both groups of mice had medication induced psoriasis. The no fat diet mice showed minimal irritation while high fat diet mice exhibited extreme irritation around the ears.
Singer Cyndi Lauper has been open about her struggles with psoriasis in recent years. She tried everything from eliminating gluten, alcohol, and sugar from her diet to topical creams. The condition prevented her from touring for several years. She said that finding the right medication has allowed her to start touring again and reclaim her life. Phil Mickelson, a pro golfer, suffers from psoriatic arthritis. About 30 percent of people who have psoriasis also develop psoriatic arthritis, which inflames the joints and can make fingers and toes swell. Mickelson began treatment soon after his psoriatic arthritis diagnosis. After a brief hiatus, he’s back to playing golf and played in the 2018 US Open Championship. The medications Lauper and Mickelson take, called biologics, are injected into the leg or other area of the body and modulate specific parts of the immune system that cause psoriasis outbreaks. These medications are tested on rats, mice, rabbits, and monkeys before moving on to human trials and receiving FDA approval.
The National Psoriasis Foundation says at least 10 percent of the population inherits one or more genes that create a predisposition for psoriasis, though only 3 percent of the population develops the disease. Anne Bowcock, Ph.D., identified one gene mutation, called CARD14, that causes plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis when activated by an environmental trigger. There are about 25 known genetic variants that make a person more likely to develop the disease. Researchers believe that looking at genetic causes could be the key to finding a cure.
Researchers are currently searching for cures for psoriasis and working to understand what causes the condition to occur. At least for now, those who are affected by psoriasis, celebrity or not, are able to avail themselves of a variety of treatments made possible by animal research.
By Lauren Gustafson