Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine researchers have developed a genetically modified protein that dramatically reverses the skin disorder vitiligo in mice, and has similar effects on immune responses in human skin tissue samples.
The modified protein is potentially the first effective treatment for vitiligo, which causes unsightly white patches on the face, hands and other parts of the body. Loyola University Chicago has submitted a patent application for the protein, and researchers are seeking regulatory approval and funding for a clinical trial in humans.
I. Caroline Le Poole, PhD, and colleagues describe the modified protein in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Le Poole is a professor in Loyola's Oncology Institute and in the departments of Pathology and Microbiology and Immunology.
About 1 million Americans have vitiligo, and the condition affects about 1 in 200 people worldwide. Vitiligo is most noticeable in people of color, but also can be distressing to Caucasians. Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system goes into overdrive and kills pigment cells, which give skin its color.
Previous studies have found that a protein called HSP70i plays a vital role in the autoimmune response that causes vitiligo. (HSP70i stands for inducible heat shock protein 70.)
HSP70i consists of 641 building blocks called amino acids. Le Poole and colleagues genetically modified one of these amino acids to create a mutant HSP70i. This mutant protein supplants normal HSP70i, thereby reversing vitiligo's autoimmune response.