Researchers at Yale University have found that FDA-approved arthritis drug can help people with condition in which white blotches mar their skin. Vitiligo is a skin condition in which the skin starts to lighten in patches.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), it is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s melanin producing cells start getting attacked by the immune system. These melanin-producing cells are what give color to the skin. It is more noticeable in dark skinned people.

The patches of the skin lightened by vitiligo are commonly in areas with greater exposure to the sun such as the face, arms, hands, legs and feet. Other areas can be affected as well. Also people with vitiligo find their hair turns gray earlier. Some people have reported that stress and trauma increases the condition.

As such no treatment is available for vitiligo and covering up the patches with cosmetics, tattoos or having the rest of the skin lightened are the only options. It not a fatal disease but it can cause social stigma and poor self-esteem. But a recent study may have uncovered hope for vitiligo patients.

The study showed that a medicine used to treat rheumatoid arthritis might help vitiligo patients. Researchers from Yale University showed that a class of drugs that have been approved by the FDA could be possibly used to treat vitiligo. The drug in question was Tofacitinib, which is a Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitor.

The researchers gave the drugs to a 53-year-old female with vitiligo for over a year. Just two months into the study, the results began to become obvious. The patient started to regain the pigmentation on her arms, hands and face. All white spots caused by vitiligo were gone at the end of 5 months.

Study author, Dr. Brett King, assistant professor of Dermatology at Yale said, “While it’s just one case, we anticipated the successful treatment of this patient based on our current understanding of the disease and how the drug works. It’s a first, and it could revolutionize treatment of patients with this condition.”

This is not the first time a medicine meant for some other problem, has treated a completely unrelated and different disease. This can be attributed to the way that the medicines have an impact on our body.

In fact last year, the scientists at Yale found that this same drug could treat a condition known as alopecia areata in which hair loss occurs due to the immune system attacking roots of hair.

Janus Kinase enzymes are inhibited by JAK inhibitors, which cause changes in the body and reduces immune system response. For those with autoimmune disorders, this may help in overcoming their problems.

Although this is just one case, the scientists hope to begin larger clinical trials using Tofacitinib and a similar drug, Ruxolitinib to further study effects of treatment on vitiligo in more people.

It is too soon to have doctors prescribe Tofacitinib until studies have been fully conducted into possible side effects. Nonetheless a sign of hope for those with vitiligo is on the horizon. The case study of the treatment was published in JAMA Dermatology.

Hands Of The Patient Before And After Treatment With Tofacitinib Citrate

  1. At baseline, numerous white macules and patches are evident.
  2. After 5 months of treatment, repigmentation is nearly complete.