A new target for the treatment of acute and chronic itch

Grantee: Xavier Gasull, Professor, Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomèdica (FCRB)

Amount: DKK 2,677,500

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2022

Geography: Spain

This project led by Xavier Gasull, also Professor at the Neuroscience Institute of the University of Barcelona, seeks to investigate and validate the potential of a newly identified target molecule on sensory nerves of the skin for treatment of chronic itch.

Chronic itch is a very important problem for patients suffering from several dermatologic diseases such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, or dry skin. Constant skin scratching in response to itching may further worsen the skin lesion.

In all these dermatological conditions, pruritic (itching) stimuli activate specific sensory neurons in the skin that send the message to the brain, where the sensation of itch is perceived and trigger the scratching response. The recent description of the specific sensory neuron subpopulations involved in this process has started the elucidation of some of the neural mechanisms involved in itch signalling.

From recent RNA sequencing databases and the functional characterization of itch sensing neurons, Xavier and his team have identified a new pharmacological target that can be used to decrease neuronal activation and relieve itch sensation. They have also identified a candidate drug activating this pharmacological target, which shows positive results decreasing acute and chronic itch not mediated through histamine, for which no effective drugs exist to date.

The focus of this project is to validate this new target in different skin disease models that produce chronic itch. They will use computational methods to design new drugs against this target, synthesize and then test them for therapeutical purposes. The hope is to benefit patients suffering from chronic itch in different skin diseases and, if successful, will add new pharmacological regimes for treating chronic itch.