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New therapy may treat vitiligo within weeks

Press Trust of India  |  Boston 

Scientists have developed a therapy that may help permanently treat -- a that causes the loss of skin colour in blotches -- within a few weeks.

In many parts of the world there is great shame and stigma tied to vitiligo, an of the skin that causes disfiguring white spots, which can appear anywhere on the body.

In some societies, individuals with vitiligo, and even their family members, are shunned and excluded from arranged marriages.

"The rejection is so crippling that one person suffering from the even requested an of his forearm affected by because he could marry with only one arm, but could not with vitiligo," said John Harris, from in the US.

While existing treatments such as topical steroids and can be effective for patients, they take one and two years to show results. In most cases the reappear at the same location, often within just one year after stopping the treatments.

This recurrence can be just as devastating as when the white patches first appeared.

"Our research team suspected that "memory" forms within the skin when the first appear, so that the spots "know" where to return when treatments are stopped," said Harris.

Researchers found cells in skin from mice or humans that looked a lot like the memory cells that protect the skin from a second exposure to a

The body "thinks" it is fighting a when it "misfires" at the patient's normal cells, killing the pigment-producing cells in the skin called melanocytes and causing vitiligo.

These cells are called "resident memory T cells."

Researchers isolated the disease-causing memory cells and analysed them more closely. They were able to determine that these cells specifically targeted the melanocytes.

"We hypothesised that if we could remove these memory cells from the skin using a new treatment, then treatments to re-pigment the skin would be long-lasting and possibly permanent," Harris said.

Researchers tested the hypothesis on mice specifically engineered to develop vitiligo. They found that the vitiligo-causing memory cells require a special protein called "IL-15" to survive.

"We injected the vitiligo mice with an antibody that blocks the IL-15 protein from interacting with the memory cells," Harris said.

The treatment wiped out the memory cells from the mouse skin within just a few weeks, allowing the brown pigment to return in a spotty pattern, just as we see in patients who respond to therapy.

Just two weeks of antibody treatments caused repigmentation that lasted for months, suggesting this strategy, unlike existing treatments, might provide long-term benefit for vitiligo patients.

The team is now working to develop a clinical trial to test this antibody treatment in human patients.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, March 17 2019. 11:05 IST