Itch & Scratch

Oct 03, 2011




Scratching a little beneath the surface

Itch is a major clinical problem and we do not have powerful and specific anti-itch drugs. My initial interest in itch was in how we might measure subjective itch as the objective state, scratch. This built on work undertaken by Sam Shuster many years ago.

We started off with a simple attempt to measure scratch using accelerometers worn at night. Initially, we validated these against infrared videoing in the patient’s own home. We learned several things. First, scratching at night is a lot less stereotyped than we had imagined. This led us to see if we could distinguish different sorts of movements. Second, we have become intrigued by the dissociation between objective and subjective. This has led us to ask more general questions about whether patients are able to provide accurate accounts of their own diseases. The PC of the day says ‘listen, listen to the clients’, but what if they don’t know best.

A few papers on itch in man are herehere and here, some on itch in the mouse here and here, and a book review here.

Caroline Murray as been working on this topic. She has returned to full time clinical work here in Edinburgh but is still writing up her PhD. Our more recent papers looking at the relation between subjective and objective measures of skin disease are here and here.

Most of this work was funded by the Wellcome Trust, and a little by Pharma. We are still (slowly) publishing stuff based on the work.

Post by Jonathan Rees

Clinical academic and skin watcher at the University of Edinburgh

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