(Chicago)—Researchers at Rush University Medical Center and their colleagues have developed a treatment vaccine that could prevent and reverse the depigmentation that occurs in autoimmune vitiligo, a condition in which there is a loss of pigment (color) from the skin resulting in white patches.
The study examined the production of heat shock proteins (HSPs) on cells and revealed that delivering a modified form of the HSP70 gene (HSP70i) in the form of a vaccine and forcing cells to produce the resulting HSP70i protein could be a potential treatment for vitiligo. The results from the study were published in Science Translational Medicine on Feb. 27.
The vaccine, which contains the modified protein, reverses the skin disorder vitiligo in mice and has similar effects in human skin samples.
“We used human skin to demonstrate the strong potential of translating HSP70i gene delivery technology in the future to clinical care of patients with this condition,” said Dr. Andrew Zloza, assistant professor, Department of Immunology/Microbiology at Rush. “This study shows that delivering a modified HSP70 does the reverse and stops the depigmentation process and allows pigmentation to return, making it a possible therapy for vitiligo.”
The study was headed by co-lead author Zloza, and clinicians in the Rush University Cancer Center, which is headed by Howard Kaufman, MD, director of the cancer center. Researchers from Loyola University Medical Center collaborated on the research.
There currently is no cure for vitiligo. Current treatments for vitiligo can cause hyperpigmentation and other undesirable side effects. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, 1 to 2 million people in the United States have the disorder and most develop it before the age of 40. The disorder affects all races and both sexes equally.
“This condition can be psychologically debilitating for those who have it. Often people with vitiligo are shunned in public because of their appearance. Current treatments have not been effective in preventing the progression of this condition. Bleaching the skin is currently the only treatment for those who have large areas of depigmentation,” said Zloza.
“In testing the vaccine on cultured skin cells, we discovered that the immune system no longer kills pigmented cells. In fact, the depigmentation was reversed,” said Zloza. “Because the cell change process is similar, the knowledge gained from this study may be used for developing treatment for other skin conditions such as melanoma, a skin cancer.”
The study was supported by an NIH/National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases grant.
Authors of the study are Jeffrey A. Mosenson, Andrew Zloza, John D. Nieland, Elizabeth Garrett-Mayer, Jonathan M. Eby, Erica J. Huelsmann, Previn Kumar, Cecele Denman, Andrew T. Lacek, Frederick J. Kohlhapp, Ahmad Alamiri, Tasha Hughes, Steven D. Bines, Howard L. Kaufman, Andreas Overbeck, Shikhar Mehrotra, Claudia Hernandez, Michael I. Nishimura, José A. Guevara-Patiño and I. Caroline Le Poole.
Other institutions involved in the study are Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Aarhus University in Denmark, Medical University of South Carolina, Illinois Math and Science Academy, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago and Lumiderm in Madrid, Spain.