Arthritis drug treats woman's skin condition

Dermatologists at Yale University School of Medicine say they've successfully treated a woman's skin condition with a medication used for treating rheumatoid arthritis.

Vitiligo is a common condition that causes the loss of skin color, which appears as white spots on the body. The condition plagued the late singer Michael Jackson. Current treatments including steroid creams and light therapy but they have not proven very effective at reversing the disease.

Now, a case study published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, Dr. Brett King and Dr. Brittany Craiglow, assistant professors of dermatology at Yale University, explain how they discovered a promising solution.

Last year, King and Craiglow learned of research showing that medication for treating rheumatoid arthritis, known as a tofacitinib, could treat hair loss caused by alopecia areata. The research was published in the journal of Investigative Dermatology. The team believed that the same medicine could also be effective in treating vitiligo.

To test this, the researchers gave tofacitinib to a 53-year-old patient with vitiligo on her face, hands and body. Reportedly the white spots had been increasing on the patient's body during the year prior to the study.

vitiligo-photos-620w.jpg
After five months of treatment, the patient's hands show significant repigmentation.
Dr. Brett King

Within two months of treatment with tofacitinib, the doctors say their patient experienced partial repigmentation of her face, arms and hands. After five months, the white spots on her face and hands were nearly gone, with only a few spots remaining on other parts of her body.

Before and after photos show significant improvement in the skin on her hands.

The doctors say the woman did not experience any adverse side effects from the medication.

They say they hope the results could represent a breakthrough in vitiligo treatment.

"While it's one case, we anticipated the successful treatment of this patient based on our current understanding of the disease and how the drug works," King said in a press release.

Further research is needed to confirm the safety and efficacy of the drug. King wants to conduct a clinical trial using tofacitinib or a similar medicine, ruxolitinib, to treat vitiligo.

"It's a first, and it could revolutionize treatment of an awful disease," King said "This may be a huge step forward in the treatment of patients with this condition."