vitiligo research

5 Things to Know Vitiligo Research and Treatments in 2018

What’s the latest in vitiligo research and treatments? Living Dappled had the chance to find out in its first episode of “Ask the Experts” featuring Dr. John Harris, Director of the University of Massachusetts Vitiligo Clinic and Research Center.

Hosted on Living Dappled’s Facebook, the live interview highlighted five things to know about vitiligo research and treatments in 2018. A scientist and dermatologist, Dr. Harris called in from his office in the Worcester, Massachusetts research center and even gave a surprise tour at the end of the interview.

Find out what we learned from Dr. Harris below and view the video below to catch the full interview.

#1 Research in vitiligo has been going on for over 2,000 years

Over 2,000 years ago, patients in India were told to chew bavachee seeds and sit out in the sun. The seeds contained psoralen, a chemical used in a modern treatments for vitiligo. So while 2,000 years ago, people knew about vitiligo and were interested in treating it, it took another couple thousand years to for doctors and scientists to find out how it works and make treatment more efficient. The modern era of research started about 70 years ago when a couple of doctors and researchers took psoralen as a chemical and gave it to patients as a topical solution on the skin or as a pill and then gave them UVA light therapy – otherwise known as PUVA. First developed back in the fifties and sixties, PUVA has been replaced with UVB because PUVA has been shown to increase the risk of skin cancer and UVB works just as well or better, but doesn’t appear to increase the skin cancer risk.

Today, the pace has picked up and even more research is happening in large part due to an increased availability of tools and interest from pharmaceutical companies. Vitiligo specialty clinics are located all over the world with four or five in the United States. And vitiligo scientists and dermatologists are collaborating globally through organizations like the Global Vitiligo Foundation and conferences to combine efforts towards ultimately finding a cure.

#2 Vitiligo was only recently recognized as an autoimmune disease

Until recently, there was a lot of debate surrounding vitiligo as an autoimmune disease. In vitiligo, the melanocytes (pigment cells) are abnormal and attract the immune system, which ends up killing them. Unfortunately, the immune cells are attacking normal cells that aren’t causing problems. Although vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, there’s a lot more to the disease and investigations are continuing. It’s important to recognize that it’s autoimmune disease because there are a lot of treatments being developed that alter and modify the immune system, which means they could work for vitiligo. Building a foundation on these existing treatments that can intervene early and cut off the immune attack can save time on research and ultimately bring patients treatments sooner.

#3 Research can be categorized in three key ways – and they all matter

Research in vitiligo is broken down into three types. Basic research is a term used to describe research that happens with cells in a dish or on animal models, including mice. Translational research is done with humans and involves taking blood and skin samples for analysis. The final type is clinical research, which involves giving patients medicine to test new drugs or understand how vitiligo changes in people over time.

All three types of research are essential to fully understanding a disease. The University of Massachusetts Vitiligo Clinic and Research Center does all three types, integrating them to understand the big picture of vitiligo. Particularly, they’ve had success with translational research as more than 100 of their patients have been generous in donating blood and skin samples.

#4 The key pathway responsible for vitiligo has been identified – and that’s good news

Imagine going to bed at night and needing to turn off the lights in your room. Ideally, you would reach over and use the lamp next to your bed instead of going to the basement and shutting down the circuit breaker for the whole house. In the same way, you don’t want to shut down your entire immune system just to make your vitiligo better.

The good news is that doctors and scientists have now identified the key pathway responsible for vitiligo, which allows them to shut off the lights in your entire room – to continue with the metaphor – and the next wave of drugs will do that. The next step is to figure out how to turn off your lights with your single lamp switch – the most effective, safe way to treat vitiligo because it would have fewer side effects.

#5 New clinical trials for vitiligo have already started and more are coming

In the past 70 years, there have been only a couple clinical trials but the good news is that new trials are already underway and more are coming. Currently, the company Incyte is testing a new topical cream through a multicenter trial that will last two years.

With more clinical trials coming, doctors and scientists are looking to patients with vitiligo to get involved to help test the drugs. Patients can find out about clinical trials at or sign up to receive news and information directly from Dr. Harris at

Watch the full interview below:

Photo by Lexus Morgan.

2 11129
Erika Page

Erika Page is a writer and blogger with universal vitiligo. Her first spots appeared on her spine when she was seven years old and today vitiligo covers her entire body. Based just south of Washington, D.C., Erika founded Living Dappled to create a community of inspiration and hope for girls and women living with vitiligo.


  1. Lakshay

    I wanna meet Dr Harris can u help me

  2. Delayne Lane

    12 year daughter has vitiligo looking any direction for help slow this down or hear the latest things on vitiligo

  3. Diana

    Hi how can I do to make a appointment to see a dr , I have vitiligo 9 years , pls help me

  4. Shafali

    I just came across one article which says about rheumatology.,amp.html

    Pls advise on this

  5. Carmella Mesropian

    Hello, Thank you very much for posting the Interview . I found living dappled by accident. My daughter was recently diagnosed with Vitiligo and it is devastating. I would like to offer her any support possible. We live in Los Angeles, however I would like to get second and third opinion of her condition. DO you have a list of doctors nationwide. I will contact Dr. Harris also. Thank you

    • Erika Page

      Carmella, thanks for the message! You aren’t alone in struggling with a vitiligo diagnosis. You actually have an internationally-known dermatologist who specializes in vitiligo right in your city! Dr. Pearl Grimes is amazing – you can find her here: You’ll find more vitiligo specialists through the Global Vitiligo Foundation here:

      • Kim O'Donnell

        Hi Erika,
        I am looking for recommendations for my 16 year old son who was diagnosed with vitiligo at age 10. We were prescribed steroid creams and they helped for a while and kept it from spreading. However they are no longer helping and he is developing white spots above his eyes and around his nose and mouth, knees, hands and elbows. Is there a doctor in the Chicago area that you can recommend? I really appreciate your blog and find it very helpful, thank you for your support.

  6. I live in Vancouver, Wa. OHSU is 10 miles away in Portland, Ore.. my 8 year old has vitiligo on chest, shoulder, neck, and fore arm. It is becoming more noticeable. Is there a specialist in my are that I could contact? Or should I make appt for her to be seen

Leave a Reply