Young Patient’s Life Is Changed by Breakthrough Eczema Drug Based on Mount Sinai Research

Karen Chen is only 23 years old, but for as long as she could remember, she has struggled with eczema. 

Having eczema was never a great experience, she says, but it only got worse as she got older. The eczema caused open wounds over her body, and the pain became so severe that she struggled to meet her basic needs. The simplest tasks, like washing her hands or walking outside, were extremely painful. Eczema also causes relentless itching. “The experience is like being covered in mosquito bites that never heal,” Karen explains. None of the conventional eczema treatments worked for her. Karen was desperate for help. 

With the help of her older sister’s research, Karen found Emma Guttman-Yassky, MD, PhD, the Waldman Professor of Dermatology and System Chair of Dermatology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Director of the Center for Excellence in Eczema and the Occupational Dermatitis Clinic at Mount Sinai. Dr. Guttman recommended that Karen start the medication dupilumab, also known as Dupixent, and enroll in a clinical trial when she turned 18. Karen was told it would take 16 weeks for the effects to take place. 

After four months on dupilumab, Karen’s skin started gradually getting better. Patches of painful, itchy skin began to heal more quickly, and the steroid creams she used along with the medication began working better and faster. Karen did get the most common side effect—an inflamed eyelid—but taking Zyrtec every night resolved it.

Laboratory research by Dr. Guttman-Yassky’s team at Mount Sinai led to the development of dupilumab, a breakthrough drug for adult patients with uncontrolled eczema. 

“I am so excited to be part of this journey toward development of targeted treatments to improve patient’s lives and see how novel treatments are making such a difference in the lives of patients,” Dr. Guttman-Yassky says about this breakthrough. “The change at times is truly miraculous, allowing patients to resume their normal lives, and achieve their goals.”

Karen says, “I feel so much different than when I started, but it was a gradual change. I still have to use creams, but now I can wash my hands. I can go to sleep without sticking to my sheets.” 

The changes were not only physical. With the suffering of eczema relieved, Karen was able to focus on taking care of herself and excelling in school. She transferred out of community college to the University of California, Berkeley, where she studies mechanical engineering. Now in her last year of college, she is completing a product-design engineering internship at Apple. 

Thanks to Dr. Guttman-Yassky and dupilumab, Karen has been able to change her life and achieve her goals. Karen is grateful for her experience with Dr. Guttman-Yassky.  “I always had a positive experience with her. I’ve always felt like she has made good efforts treating me. Other doctors would just throw stronger steroid treatments at me, and Dr. Guttman-Yassky was conscious not to do that.”