vitiligo research

Researchers Crowdfunding for Vitiligo Pilot Study on Chemical Exposure

How do chemical exposures trigger autoimmune diseases, and specifically vitiligo? Two researchers are on a mission to find out – but they need crowd support to do so.

Jillian Richmond, junior faculty at the University of Massachusetts, and Senegal Carty, master’s candidate at Clark University, are raising funds to run a pilot study that will identify changes in skin cells due to chemical exposure in an effort to determine if the change causes vitiligo or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

According to previous research, vitiligo and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis seem to be linked as those with one disease are at a higher risk of the getting the other. Further, it’s been found that the immune system responds in similar ways in both diseases.

Many scientists believe a combination of genes and environmental factors, like chemical exposure, causes autoimmunity. However, little is known about how chemical triggers work. And that’s why this research is important.

“The chemicals we are studying have been known to be associated with the development of vitiligo,” said Jillian. “However the mechanism by which the chemical actually starts vitiligo is unknown.”

Jillian and Senegal hypothesize that the chemicals cause different proteins to get stuck together, making what looks like a “new” protein and that ultimately kicks off the immune system’s response to both vitiligo and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Finding the proteins that are changed by chemicals will make it easier to develop better treatments for patients with both diseases.

Although the research team applied for funding from ATA, the grant requires additional data so the team turned to to create a campaign for a pilot study. Run by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Experiment is an online platform for discovering, funding and sharing scientific research based in New York City. Raising the funds for the pilot study will give the team the data they need to apply for the grant and continue will their full research plan.

While Senegal and Jillian will lead the project, the study will also have support from a number of collaborators and mentors, including Dr. John Harris, Director of the University of Massachusetts Vitiligo Clinic and Research Center, and Dr. Noel Lazo, Associate Professor at Clark University’s Carlson School of Chemistry.

“The pilot study will be completed this spring,” said Jillian, who has worked with the University of Massachusetts since 2013. “The rest of the studies will likely take up to a year. Once we have confirmed our data and are confident in our findings, we plan to publish the results.”

To learn more and support the campaign, visit All donations are charitable and therefore tax deductible.

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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.

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