Using the power of sunflowers against pesky skin conditions

04 June, 2014

Sufferers of itchy and scratchy skin may soon be able to harness the power contained within sunflower seeds to alleviate their symptoms, thanks to ground-breaking findings by a Queensland researcher.

Simon de Veer, from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), engineered sunflower seed proteins that will help sufferers of skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis and rosacea, and recently received the highly sought after Australian Society for Medical Research Queensland Post-graduate Award for his work.

De Veer's research involved engineering naturally occurring cyclic peptides (small proteins) found in sunflower seeds that inhibit over-activity of the proteases (enzymes ) responsible for regulating skin's regeneration.

"Proteases in the skin are involved with shedding old cells from the skin's surface by breaking the connections which normally hold them together as part of a protective barrier," de Veer said.

"This process requires a balancing mechanism to maintain healthy skin structure and thickness – if there is too much activity the skin becomes more permeable and susceptible to allergens, infection and water loss.

"The skin disorders that can result from this over-shedding of skin cells have far-reaching health, psychosocial and economic impacts for sufferers."

de Veer's research supervisor Associate Professor Jonathan Harris said the award would have significant benefits for his career as a biomedical scientist.

"Simon's work addresses not only treatment of skin disorders but also provides a more general platform for design of new drugs for a variety of diseases including cancer and microbial infections," Associate Professor Harris said.

"It's a terrific achievement for Simon and gives his future career in research a strong foundation.

"It will also help attract funding and industry partners to eventually take this research to the clinic."