In 2020, Dioraphte issued a call for proposals targeted at Centres of Expertise for rare diseases. Out of the thirteen applications, five external assessors selected five applicants, including that from the Tytgat Institute. Led by Ronald Oude Elferink, this centre of expertise is conducting research into cholestatic itch. Chronic jaundice is often accompanied by unbearable itchiness, and may lead the patient to suffer from loss of concentration, difficulties sleeping, self-mutilation and sometimes even suicide.
‘The cause of this form of itching remains unknown and very little research has been done,’ says Oude Elferink. ‘We have recently identified a factor in patients’ blood that is likely to play a role in this itch. That factor is a linoleic acid metabolite, which is formed in keratinocytes of the skin. This is an important indicator that changes occur in the skin of these patients that result in itching. Therefore, in this project we are looking for substances in the blood from patients with cholestatic itch that interfere with the normal differentiation of keratinocytes.’ The findings from this project will in all probability, lead directly to the development and use of medicines that correct this process.