– Eczema is eczema is eczema, right? Maybe not. “Atopic dermatitis might not be one disease,” a dermatologist told colleagues, and treatments may need to be adjusted to reflect the age and ethnicity of patients.

More research is needed, Kenneth B. Gordon, MD, chair and professor of dermatology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, said during a presentation at Skin Disease Education Foundation’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar. “We’re probably just on the tip of the iceberg of understanding the physiology of atopic dermatitis. Hopefully, it will lead to the therapeutic advances we’ve seen in psoriasis.”

As Dr. Gordon explained, there’s a wide gap between our understanding of psoriasis and atopic dermatitis (AD). Currently, there’s only one biologic treatment for AD, he said, “and our medicines aren’t well understood.”

As for the disease itself, he said, “you might hear a renowned [expert] say, ‘This is how it works,’ and another say, ‘This is absolutely not how it works.’ ” One camp focused on the skin barrier, he said, while another camp highlighted inflammation in AD.

“Both the barrier and inflammation are important,” he said. “There are multiple cell types and cytokines that are important, but we don’t know yet the relative importance of them all. You have this cytokine soup, and we’re still trying to figure out the driving forces.”

What is clear, Dr. Gordon said, is that AD acts differently in certain patient populations. It’s not the same in pediatric versus adult patients, he said, and it’s not the same in white versus black versus Asian patients. Research, for example, suggests that Th2, Th22, and Th17 pathways appear to be important in pediatric AD, but not Th1, he said. In contrast, the Th1 pathway plays a role in white adults – but not in black adults

Different cytokines appear to play different roles in these populations, he said. “One of the key things moving forward is going to be figuring out which patients you apply these medications to,” he noted.

Dr. Gordon has multiple disclosures including honoraria or research support from Abbvie, Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer, UCB, and others. SDEF and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.