Has Science Finally Found A Cure? Arthritis Drug May Reverse Vitiligo

Sources: The San Diego Union Tribune – By Bradley Fikes| All Things Michael

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An arthritis drug has restored skin color in a patient with vitiligo, according to a study published Wednesday by dermatologists at Yale School of Medicine. Vitiligo is most noted for the disease the late pop star Michael Jackson said caused his much-noted skin whitening.

The drug, tofacitinib citrate, sold under the brand name Xeljanz, treats rheumatoid arthritis. It’s a JAK inhibitor, so-called because it inhibits an enzyme in the class of Janus kinases, mainly found in blood-forming cells. Doctors have been testing the drug for other diseases. (Drugs targeting the related JAK2 pathway are being tested in blood cancers at UCSD.)

Tofacitinib is effective against hair loss called by alopecia universalis, according to a study by Dr. Brett King of Yale published last year. A man with almost no body hair grew a full head of hair after being treated with the drug, according to the study.

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Top: Hands of a vitiligo patient before treatment with the rheumatoid arthritis drug. Bottom: The hands have recovered normal pigmentation after five months of treatment. — Brett King, M.D.

King and Dr. Brittany Craiglowe, coauthors of the new study in JAMA Dermatology, tested the drug against vitiligo in a 53-year-old woman whose facial, hand and body skin was covered with a growing number of white spots. Treatment with other drugs had been ineffective.

“After 2 months of therapy, partial repigmentation of the face and upper extremities was evident,” the study stated. “After 5 months, repigmentation of the forehead and hands was nearly complete, and the remaining involved areas demonstrated partial repigmentation. Approximately 5 percent of the total body surface area remained depigmented.”

There were no adverse effects from the drug, the study stated.

“The results suggest that tofacitinib and other Janus kinase inhibitors may be effective in the treatment of vitiligo,” the study stated. “Additional studies will be needed to confirm their efficacy and to explore their safety.”

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