We’re all about owning our spots – that’s something that is never going to change. But while we’re embracing the skin we’re in, we’re often also pursuing treatments and using makeup to make this spotted life just a little easier. So we spoke with one of the leading vitiligo dermatologists to get an update on the state of vitiligo research today – and we have good news.
We posed some big questions to Dr. John Harris, director of the University of Massachusetts Vitiligo Clinic and Research Center and part of the Vitiligo Working Group. A dermatologist and scientist, Dr. Harris filled us in on where they are with treatments today, what we can expect and whether or not a cure for vitiligo is in the future.
Before we dive in, let’s clarify the difference between a treatment and a cure. A treatment means that you seek a solution and your vitiligo gets better, but has the potential to come back if you stop pursuing the treatment. A cure, on the other hand, is a solution that you pursue for a fixed period of time and then your vitiligo never returns.
Here’s what Dr. Harris had to say about vitiligo treatments and the possibility of a cure:
Why we need better treatment for vitiligo
Ask those with vitiligo why they aren’t pursuing treatments and you will find common themes – it’s too expensive, it takes too much time and it just isn’t working fast enough. John was quick to echo these points, even as he works hard every day to treat the spots of his patients.
“The majority of my patients get significantly better,” said Dr. Harris, who has worked in the clinic for six years. “But we wish it didn’t take so long to work. People have to come into our office two to three times a week for multiple years to get the results they want.”
His short-term goal is to help get better treatments on the market for those with vitiligo. And the good news is that these treatments are coming faster than expected.
Why there is hope for better vitiligo treatments
It might not seem like it, but vitiligo research and treatments have made significant strides in the past few years. According to Dr. Harris, scientists have identified some of the pathways that cause vitiligo and even better, drugs that inhibit those pathways are already in existence today.
“We don’t have to create the drugs, we just have to show companies that these existing drugs work for vitiligo,” said Dr. Harris. “It typically takes up to 20 years to start from scratch and move a drug into the market and we get to skip that because these drugs already exist.”
The next step is to convince companies to invest money in clinic trials to test the results of treating vitiligo with existing drugs, explained John. After a year or two of testing, the results can be submitted to the FDA, which could approve it for market. The entire process could be completed in just three to five years.
Finding a cure for vitiligo
The news on treatments is great, but we have an even bigger question on our mind: is there a cure for vitiligo in our future? It’s the kind of question where you hold your breath and wait for a response that you aren’t sure you actually want to hear. As it turns out, Dr. Harris had even more good news.
“There are very few things we cure in medicine,” explained Dr. Harris. “But I would like to get to a cure and I do think it’s possible. My goal is to get there before my career is done.”
Erika Page is the Founder and Editor of Living Dappled. After getting vitiligo at the age of seven, she lost 100% of her pigment to the condition and today lives with universal vitiligo.