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A team of researchers from Yale University have developed a possibly groundbreaking treatment plan for vitiligo. There are over 150,000 Americans with the autoimmune disease that causes white blotches on the skin. For those who try to restore their natural pigment, typical treatments like steroid creams and light therapy are commonly unsuccessful.

In recent years, there has been an admirable movement to eliminate the stigma that comes with vitiligo. Take, for example, Winnie Harlow and Amy Deanna, two top models with vitiligo who have graced numerous high-profile magazine and fashion campaigns. However, this revolutionary combination therapy could be the first of its kind to fully eliminate vitiligo’s white patches.

The group of researchers led by Brett King, MD, associate professor of radiology, combined tofacitinib, a JAK 1/3 inhibitor, and “narrow band ultraviolet B light therapy.” Tofacitinib has been found to prevent the immune system from attacking the skin cells that produce melanin pigment. The light component helps pigment-making cells revive the color in the skin.

In the researchers’ study recently published in JAMA Dermatology, they administered the treatment plan on two patients, one Latina woman in her 30s and a white male in his 50s. Vitiligo splotches were present on 75 percent of the woman’s face, and the man had patches on his torso, arms and on 90 percent of his face. They both took 5 mg of tofacitinib twice a day and underwent ultralight therapy twice a week (sometimes three times a week for the male participant). After three months of treatment, 75 percent or more of the woman’s skin color had been restored. In the case of the man, his original skin color returned after six months.

“These findings will define treatment of vitiligo in the future,” King said.

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