Please read McLean's article. It is effin' awesome. It's written by an expert and as riveting a read as you'll find anywhere, if you're interested in eczema science.
Here's McLean's explanation of why filaggrin matters:
Filaggrin is crucial for the formation of the stratum corneum, the layer of dead cells at the surface of the skin, and also for the hydration of this crucial barrier layer. People who have mutations in one or both copies of the filaggrin gene produce dry and flaky skin that is permeable to allergens or chemical irritants. When the barrier is broken, foreign material is able to pass through these skin layers. We think that childhood eczema—which usually first occurs within the first few months of life—is an indication that foreign pathogens and irritants have passed through an abnormally porous skin layer, activating a strong allergic immune response, and thus priming the body to react to antigens that it would not normally encounter by this route. Later in life, when the child’s immune system comes into contact with those same allergens, perhaps through the lungs, it reacts aggressively, causing the inflammation in the lungs that results in shortness of breath. In fact, many children with eczema have multiple allergies to house dust, pet hair, and other substances.McLean tells the story of how he and his team identified the mutations in the filaggrin gene (FLG). FLG is a remarkably difficult gene to sequence and was one of the last to be conquered by the Human Genome Project. It's very large, and contains 10 (or, sometimes, more) identical subunits, which means that if you start sequencing somewhere in the middle, as is done in a shotgun approach (where you sequence a lot of small bits and join them up like a jigsaw) you can't be sure if you're sequencing just one of the subunits, or more than one, or all of them at the same time. "It was as if nature was having a joke at our expense," McLean writes.
The team managed to identify the two mutations in ichthyosis vulgaris-- but then one of the scientists, Alan Irvine, pointed out that many of the patients in the subject group also suffered from eczema, many more of them than were in the control patient group. (It's this kind of insight that drives scientific discovery.) McLean, Irvine, and colleagues ran a statistical analysis on their patient group, which was very small by epidemiological standards--only 50 affected patients, and 200 controls, instead of thousands--and found that the measure of significance, the "p-value," indicated beyond a doubt that there was a link between eczema and the mutations.
At the end of the article, here's McLean on what's next.
The question now is how to prevent eczema, asthma, and allergies from occurring in patients with the susceptibility mutations in their filaggrin gene. If it were possible to find a cure for eczema in adults, could we also cure asthma, or would it be too late, with the immune system permanently primed against allergens? I would argue that it might at least help. If the skin barrier is not repaired, then the immune system will constantly produce more antibodies in response to allergens that continue to get past the barrier. Stopping that assault may have some beneficial effects. The alternate possibility is that we may need to prevent eczema in young children before they become sensitized. If the latter proves true, would it be sufficient to curb eczema early in life, as the immune system develops? These are all questions we are gearing up to answer...
...We’ve also started to look for ways to help the body replace filaggrin at the cellular level. We are currently searching small-molecule chemical libraries for new classes of compounds that might induce skin cells to produce more filaggrin protein. Results look promising, and we are hopeful that in a few years’ time, new drugs or creams that enhance skin-barrier function will be available to treat these common diseases.From McLean's biography we learn that he briefly worked at a biotech company, which is good news for us: he probably has some idea of how cures get from the benchtop to market.
I'm going to argue that HERE is where we need to put our money from philanthropic donors. Now that McLean and his team of leading scientists have found these mutations and laid bare the role of filaggrin in eczema, we need to help entrepreneurial scientists translate this research into startup companies or intellectual property that can be licensed to big pharma or biotech companies such as Genentech. THIS, the proof-of-concept stage, is where funding in the area of $100k can make a difference to an academic lab-- the difference between the science turning into real cures, or languishing in the pages of the scientific literature.