In the quest for a better treatment, Supuran's group identified an enzyme in M. globosa that is essential for the fungus's growth. Tests showed that sulfonamides, a family of existing antibiotic medicines, were more effective in preventing the fungus's growth than ketoconazole, a widely used anti-fungal medicine that is an ingredient in certain dandruff treatments. As a result of the study, the scientists believe that the enzyme is a prime target for developing better anti-dandruff medicines.

"You could say that we've solved the puzzle of the skin barrier, something that has great potential significance for dermatology," says principal investigator Lars Norlén, associate professor at Karolinska Institutet's Dermatology and Venereology Unit.

The upper layer of the skin is a watertight barrier called the stratum corneum. A research group at Karolinska Institutet have now structure determined this barrier layer at a molecular level, unlocking the secrets of the skin's perviousness. This will hopefully enable the widespread administration of drugs though the skin instead of via pills or injections, which brings several advantages; for example, it means that drugs can be delivered evenly over time instead of in doses, and patients bypass the first-passage metabolism, whereby the entire dose passes the liver, thus increasing the risk of adverse effects.

"We can now construct computer simulations to help us find out which substances have to be added to different drugs to open up the skin," says Dr Norlén. "We hope to one day be able to administer regular drugs like insulin and antibiotics this way."