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Rheumatoid arthritis treatment returns pigment to vitiligo patient's skin

By Marilyn Malara
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The patient's hands before treatment. Photo by Dr. Brett King/Yale
The patient's hands before treatment. Photo by Dr. Brett King/Yale

NEW HAVEN, Conn., June 27 (UPI) -- Dermatologists at Yale University's School of Medicine may have determined that a pre-existing arthritis drug can be used to reverse the effects of vitiligo, a skin condition involving the loss of pigmentation.

A 53-year-old patient with the disfiguring condition has regained most of her skin's pigmentation after just five months of taking a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor called tofacitinib citrate.

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A report of the discovery appeared in the journal JAMA Dermatology this week.

After two months of treatment, the patient in the experiment saw a partial return of her skin's color in her hands, face and arms. After five months, those areas are almost clear and those in other areas of her body are also disappearing. Yale notes that the medication, in this single instance, caused zero adverse effects throughout the course of 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. A year earlier, he demonstrated how tofacitinib could also be effective in treating hair loss caused by caused by alopecia areata.

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More research is needed to ensure the drug's safety and effectiveness, King said. He credits scientist John Harris from the University of Massachusetts Medical Center for the idea of trying the drug on his vitiligo patient.

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

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