Ingredient in Coconuts, Breast Milk Treats Acne

You can finally can your ProActiv subscription: Bioengineering graduate student Dissaya Pornpattananangkul is developing a new acne treatment that utilizes the compounds derived from coconut and human breast milk, but lacks the usual side affects associated with current acne drugs.

Pornpattananangkul, who works in the Nanomaterials and Nanomedicine Laboratory, said she is experimenting with a “smart delivery system” that could treat acne by directly delivering potent molecules of lauric acid — a compound proven to stop the bacterium that causes the skin problem — to the site of irritation.

“Our main goal is to prepare nanoparticles with lauric acid in order to kill bacteria that cause acne vulgaris,” Pornpattananangkul said.

The “smart delivery system” is made up of liposomes — microscopic sacs that act as carriers —filled with lauric acid. The liposomes are attached to gold nanoparticles, which help locate acne on human skin based on characteristics of the skin such as pH. This way, lauric acid can be applied directly to the source.

“The delivery system will allow us to deliver several molecules of the drug to acne at the same time,” Pornpattananangkul said. “That will cause an even more effective way to kill bacteria.”

Approximately 85 percent of teenagers and over 40 million people in the United States are affected by acne. The lack of side effects of many drugs now available such a benzoyl peroxide include crusting and blistering.

These side effects are drastically reduced when lauric acid is applied. Since the compound is a natural product found in both coconut oil and human breast milk, Pornpattananangkul says it offers a safe alternative to the commercialized acne treatments currently available and is less likely to irritate the skin while killing off the bacterium causing inflammatory acne.

The project began when Pornpattananangkul, nanoengineering professor Liangfang Zhang and graduate student Sage Olson teamed up with a group of researchers from the division of dermatology.

“We discovered that lauric acid had the ability to kill bacteria effectively,” Pornpattananangkul said. “Once we knew that this worked, we wanted to improve it even more by improving the delivery system.”

Although the project has been in progress for almost two years, Pornpattananangkul said that there is no finalized ending date.

“We do not plan to ‘get it done’ because we plan to improve it as much as we can,” Pornpattananangkul said. “For example, first we get to prepare one nanoparticle. After that one is done, we do another nanoparticle that releases the drug inside the lesion only, but not outside. There are a lot of ways we can improve our system.”

Though the group is currently focusing its research on lauric acid, they are also exploring other fatty acids that could potentially fight acne.

“We are also interested in combination therapy [where we] combine our drugs and other drugs in the market to one nanoparticle to reduce the toxicity of those market drugs,” Pornpattananangkul said.

Readers can contact Connie Qian at [email protected].

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