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What Research is Being Done on Vitiligo?

Scientists in our day have gained a much better understanding of the chronic skin disease of Vitiligo through intense and thorough research than in the past. From the genetic basis of autoimmune disorders, to the structure of the skin, and understanding the immune system, studies are now being conducted which may yield more information about the nature and causes of Vitiligo, and how to treat it more effectively. Mainly, gene research has helped a lot in better identification of Vitiligo. A variety of technical advances, such as gene mapping and cloning, has permitted relatively rapid advances in knowledge of melanocytes (the cells that make pigment), at the cellular and molecular levels.

Current research includes studies to investigate:

• How trauma or stress to the skin can trigger Vitiligo or the development of new white patches;
• New treatments and better understanding of Vitiligo using a mouse model;
• Genes that may cause or contribute to having Vitiligo;
• Analysis of genes already known to be linked to Vitiligo.

Much of the research that holds promise for understanding, treating, and possibly preventing Vitiligo is supported by NIAMS (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases). Researchers are looking at the immune response to see if interrupting certain signals given off by melanocytes can help stop the spread of the depigmentation. They are examining the way melanocytes receive signals from other skin cells that direct them to deposit the pigment.

Furthermore, at the University of Colorado, NIAMS supports a large collaborative project looking for genes that may contribute to Vitiligo in several ethnic groups. Researchers have found evidence of a link between Vitiligo and a gene called NALP1. It is hoped that further genetic analyses of these groups will enable them to identify one or more additional Vitiligo susceptibility genes. This work may lead to development of specific approaches to disease therapy and prevention for patients at high genetic risk.

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