The work of a Nova Scotia researcher is shedding new light on psoriasis, the chronic dermatological condition which affects roughly one to two per cent of the world's population.

Dr. Richard Langley, a professor at Dalhousie Medical School in Halifax, headed an international team of researchers in a study which verified the protein that causes the inflammatory skin disease. The study also identified a promising new treatment.

'For the past 10 to 15 years, people have been looking at the different types of players and the different instruments.... We now think we've found the conductor.' - Dr. Richard Langley

Psoriasis causes painful, itchy lesions and has been linked to a host of other medical problems.

"We know that patients who have psoriasis are at a higher risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, depression, arthritis, even inflammatory bowel disease," said Langley.

Psoriasis sufferers face stigma

Dr. Richard Langley

Dr. Richard Langley headed an international team of researchers looking at psoriasis. (Dalhousie Medical School)

Langley said many of his psoriasis patients feel stigmatized by the condition. In children, this can result in sufferers not wanting to play sports or go swimming for fear of being teased or having their skin condition exposed. He recalls one patient who was called "alligator boy" because of the condition.

Psoriasis also affects people as they shift into adulthood and Langley said some are hesitant to enter relationships because of the condition.

Langley's research focused on identifying IL-17, the protein which is linked to psoriasis, as well as developing secukinumab, a molecule which targets IL-17 and has had promising results when it comes to treating the skin disease.

Effective treatment

The research marks a shift in thinking about psoriasis.

"For the past 10 to 15 years, people have been looking at the different players and the different instruments.... We now think we've found the conductor," said Langley.

For the trial, patients received a weekly, and later monthly, injection. The results of the trial found secukinumab was almost twice as effective as some other treatments currently on the market.

One of those who participated in the medical trial is Gary Fader, who has had psoriasis for 20 years. He would get it on body parts such as knees, back and elbows. It didn't take long for him to see a change after participating in the trial.

"The following month, there was instant change," he said.

The study was funded by the drug company Novartis. 

When this treatment might be available to the public is unknown, as approval is currently being sought from Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The cost of treatment is also unknown.

The findings of the research appeared in last week's New England Journal of Medicine.