Having a look at a recent press release I found out that a Loyola University Hospital researcher is focusing her research on finding a treatment for vitiligo. The interesting part is that she says this could also lead to a treatment for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
In vitiligo, the immune system goes into overdrive and attacks pigment cells, causing the skin to lose color. On the other side, melanoma could be treated by reviving up the immune system to start attacking malignant pigment cells.
"Things we learn from vitiligo could apply to melanoma, and vice versa," says Loyola researcher Caroline Le Poole, PhD. Le Poole is an associate professor in the Oncology Institute of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
None of the existing treatments prevent vitiligo from progressing. But the approach Le Poole is studying potentially could stop vitiligo in its tracks.
In people who are susceptible to vitiligo, an injury to the skin, such as sunburn, can trigger pigment cells to generate stress proteins. Immune cells absorb these proteins and, in turn, signal killer T cells to destroy pigment cells.
Le Poole hopes to throw a wrench into this overactive immune response. In collaboration with Assay Designs, Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mi., she is developing blockers that would stop immune cells from absorbing stress hormones and triggering the immune response.
"An active immune response can be bad for vitiligo patients, but good for melanoma patients," Le Poole said. "We hope to be able to adjust the immune system in ways that would benefit both groups of patients."