SCIENTISTS have claimed a breakthrough in treating the distressing skin condition psoriasis, it was revealed today.
They say that an ointment used in treating the painful disease actually kills off the cells that cause of the problem.
The scientists at Newcastle University believe the discovery represents a major step towards enabling the design of better treatments for psoriasis, which affects up to a million people in the UK alone.
It is a genetic condition that causes the over-production of skin cells, which causes a thickening of the skin, resulting in the raised, red, scaly patches.
Professor Nick Reynolds and Dr Mark Birch-Machin studied the effects of dithranol, an ointment applied to the surface of the skin.
The ointment is derived from the araroba tree found in the rainforests of the Amazon. In India, the same substance is known as Goa powder.
Prof Reynolds said: "Dithranol is a very effective treatment for episodes of psoriasis and it has been around for a long time, since the early 1900s. By studying the action of the drug, we wanted to gain a better understanding of how it works."
Laboratory studies showed that dithranol targets skin cells' mitochondria - the part of a cell from which it draws its energy - causing the cells to die within 48 hours of the application of the ointment.