Dermatologists at Yale School of Medicine recently discovered that a medication for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) was able to restore the skin color of a patient with vitiligo. The study was published in JAMA Dermatology.
Vitiligo occurs when melanin-forming cells (melanocytes) die or stop producing melanin — the pigment that gives color to the skin, hair and eyes. The involved patches of skin become lighter or white. It remains unknown why the condition occurs, however it is thought to be a result of an imbalance in which the immune system attacks and destroys skin melanocytes, family history (heredity), or a trigger event, such as sunburn, stress or exposure to industrial chemicals.
Available treatments for the condition include light therapy and steroid creams, however, their efficacy is not reliable. Research in vitiligo led researchers to consider a class of drugs named Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors.
In a recent study Brett King, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology and principal investigator of the research, along with colleagues assessed the efficacy of JAK inhibitor tofacitinib (approved for the treatment of RA) in the treatment of vitiligo.
The team gave tofacitinib to a 53-year-old patient who had white spots covering her hands, face, and body. After two months on tofacitinib, the patient had experienced partial repigmentation on her arms, face, and hands. Following five months of treatment the withe spots completely disappeared, with no adverse events observed.
According to the researchers, these results might represent a novel treatment for vitiligo. “While it’s one case, we anticipated the successful treatment of this patient based on our current understanding of the disease and how the drug works,” said King in a recent news release.
However, the team highlights that more studies are necessary to confirm the drug’s efficacy and safety. “It’s a first, and it could revolutionize treatment of an awful disease,” said King in the news release. “This may be a huge step forward in the treatment of patients with this condition.” King hopes to conduct a clinical trial using tofacitinib, or a similar medicine, ruxolitinib, for the treatment of vitiligo.