Arthritis Drug Restores Skin Colour in Vitiligo Patient

Dermatologists from the Yale School of Medicine have successfully used tofacitinib, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, to reduce the effects of vitiligo.

Vitiligo is a disease which causes skin to lose its pigmentation and is commonly treated through the use of steroid creams and light therapy. These however, do not offer consistent results and so the improvements seen through the use of tofacitinib could represent a breakthrough in vitiligo treatment.

Assistant Professor of dermatology Brett King who headed the research first explored the benefits offered by the Janus kinase inhibitor (a drug which obstructs the activity of Janus kinase enzymes) to those suffering from alopecia before considering its potential as a treatment for the skin disease.

He investigated the drug’s effectiveness by trialing tofacitinib on a 53 year old woman who was experiencing the effects of vitiligo as large white patches extended over her face, hands and body.  Prior to the use of tofacitinib the area of skin affected was increasing however after two months of treatment the patient was able to observe re-pigmentation in the problem areas. Following five months of medication the white patches covering the face and hands had disappeared, leaving only a few small, white spots elsewhere on the body.

Knowledge of the way the disease affects the body combined with the researcher’s familiarity with how this already FDA approved drug works, has prompted confidence in tofacitinib’s future use as a popular treatment. This is further supported by the absence of any harmful side effects over the course of the study. Though additional research will be needed to confirm the drug’s safety, moving forward Professor King hopes to conduct a clinical trial using tofacitinib, or similar medicines such as ruxolitinib, to establish whether a JAK inhibitor could provide a successful remedy for those suffering with vitiligo.

Image credit: Nadine Mitchell