News / Health

Scientists Discover Potential Treatment to Reverse Unsightly Skin Disorder

FILE - Detroit anchor and reporter Lee Thomas suffers from vitiligo.
FILE - Detroit anchor and reporter Lee Thomas suffers from vitiligo.
Jessica Berman
Researchers have developed a genetically modified protein that, in experiments with animals, reverses vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that causes large patches of unsightly discoloration on the skin.  

Vitiligo affects an estimated 1 in 200 people worldwide. The autoimmune disorder is most dramatic in darker-skinned individuals because of the patchy loss of brown pigment.  But it also can affect people with lighter complexions.  

There is no successful treatment.  Steroid creams are largely ineffective, and skin grafts are painful and expensive.

The depigmentation is the result of an immune system attack on melanocytes, cells responsible for skin color. Caroline Le Poole, a researcher with Loyola University in Chicago, says people usually develop the disorder after an extreme environmental exposure or trauma.

“They would for example go on a very sunny vacation and come back and then all of a sudden it starts taking off," said Le Poole. "Or they were maybe bitten by a dog and then it starts from there.  But there’s even psychological factors that also come into play.”

Such as the loss of a job or a loved one. Le Poole and her colleagues discovered how a stress protein called “heat shock protein 70,” plays a role in triggering vitiligo.  

That stress protein, also called HSP, kicks the body’s natural immunity into overdrive in some individuals, targeting and killing skin pigment cells.  

Researchers made the discovery while studying ways to direct immune system T cells against melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.  By genetically modifying HSP, scientists say they also were able to switch off the body’s attack on the pigment cells.

In experiments on black mice, co-researcher Jose Alejandro Guevara says scientists were able to change the animals’ fur color by genetically manipulating their HSP.

“When we treated [them] to induce vitiligo they turned white; and when we treated [the mice] with the mutant HSP [protein] we prevent[ed] that," said Guevara.

Scientists also saw the patchy white fur of mice with vitiligo transform to black after the animals were vaccinated with the modified stress protein, which calmed the immune attack.  Experiments using human skin tissue samples also showed similar immune responses.

Researchers hope to formulate a vaccine and conduct human trials within the next few years.

An article on the genetically modified skin protein to reverse vitiligo is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs