Writing in the journal Science Translational Medicine, researchers at Loyola University Chicago have developed a modified protein that could potentially treat the skin condition vitiligo, which causes white patches on the skin and affects around one in every two hundred people worldwide. There are no really effective treatments, and therapies such as light treatment, steroid creams and skin grafts can cause significant side effects and donít prevent the disease from progressing.
The disease is caused by a personís immune system turning on their own pigment cells, which are responsible for giving skin its colour. Previous studies have shown that a protein called HSP70i is involved in this overactive immune response. The researchers created a version of HSP70i where one single building block, or amino acid, had been altered. They discovered that this mutant protein replaces the normal version in cells and switches off the immune reaction.
When they gave the mutant HSP70i to mice with vitiligo, they found that it returned their black and white fur to normal black colouring. Similar effects were seen in samples of human skin with the condition. Although the work has only been done in mice and skin samples in the lab so far, the researchers plan to run a clinical trial in patients as soon as possible.