Until now, there has been no successful treatment for a relatively rare skin condition called vitiligo. For reasons that remain mysterious, some people develop depigmentation of portions of their skin. It can occur on hands, feet and face. Dermatologists have been at a loss to reverse the loss of pigment, although ultraviolet therapy can sometimes be partially helpful.
Now a pilot study suggests that a new drug mimicking melanocyte-stimulating hormone speeds repigmentation with UV B light exposure. Melanocytes are the cells that contain pigment.
The drug, afamelanotide, produced natural-looking pigment over 75% of previously depigmented skin. The darker the skin, the more noticeable the repigmentation. Side effects included nausea, fatigue, headache and dizziness. This tiny study offers proof of concept for a drug that will require more extensive testing.
[JAMA Dermatology, Jan. 2013]