Vitiligo treatment has progressed quickly in the last few years. An experimental drug called afamelanotide can improve the skin condition vitiligo when used along with light therapy, a study suggests.

What do we know already about new areas in vitiligo treatment?

If someone has vitiligo they have patches on their skin where they have lost colour (pigment), leaving the skin white. This happens when cells that produce this pigment, which is called melanin, die or stop working.

Vitiligo affects people of all skin types, but it is often more noticeable in people with darker skin. The loss of pigment can happen anywhere on the body, including the face and inside the mouth. It can also affect the eyes and hair.

The condition isn’t life threatening, but it can make a person feel very self-conscious about their appearance, particularly if it affects their face. There is no cure, but vitiligo treatment can help.

One vitiligo treatment is light therapy (also called phototherapy). During this treatment, the skin is exposed to ultraviolet A (UVA) or ultraviolet B (UVB) light from a special lamp. This can help pigment to return to the affected areas. Vitiligo treatment in the form of light therapy is often combined with a medicine called psoralen to make the skin more sensitive to light.

Researchers have now looked at whether an experimental medicine called afamelanotide might also help when combined with light treatment. Afamelanotide is a drug that encourages the production of melanin.

How was the new study done?

The study included 55 men and women who had vitiligo on between 15 and 50 percent of their bodies. All of the people had darker skin types.

The people were randomly split into two groups. One group had UVB light therapy two to three times a week for six months. The other group had light therapy plus afamelanotide treatment. Afamelanotide comes as a pellet (about the size of a grain of rice), which is inserted under the skin. The pellet then gradually releases the medicine. The people in the combined treatment group were given afamelanotide once a month, following their first month of light therapy.

Researchers checked the people’s skin regularly, using scoring systems to see whether their vitiligo had improved. This scores looked at the area of skin affected as well as the amount of pigment lost. They then compared the two groups to see which had improved more in this vitiligo treatment protocol.

What does the new study say something important about vitiligo treatment?

People who had light therapy plus afamelanotide had greater improvement in their vitiligo than those having only light therapy as their only vitiligo treatment.

After nearly six months, people having the combined treatment had nearly a 50 percent improvement in their vitiligo, on average. This compared with an average improvement of about 33 percent for those having only light therapy.

People having the combined treatment also started to improve more quickly. For example, people in the combination group had improvements on their face, arms, and hands about 20 days sooner, on average, than those having only light therapy.

No one in the study got serious side effects. However, many people in both groups had skin redness, and some people in the combined group felt sick.

How reliable is the research into this new vitiligo treatment?

This study was a randomised controlled trial, which is the best type of study for comparing the effects of treatments. However, the study was fairly small, with only 55 people. We need larger studies to confirm these findings.

Also, there are several questions that still need to be answered. For example, what are the long-term effects of the treatment? What dose of afamelanotide is best? Does the combined treatment also help people with lighter skin colours? And does afamelanotide help on its own, without light therapy?

What does this mean for me?

These findings are quite promising, suggesting that this combination of vitiligo treatment may be helpful for some people with vitiligo. However, afamelanotide is a new treatment and it has not yet been approved for use in the UK. So this combined treatment is not yet available.

If you have vitiligo, there are several other treatment options you might try, including light therapy and other medicines. Many people also use makeup and even tattoos to hide their loss of pigment. Acuity Medical can help you explore your options for vitiligo treatment if you have tried unsuccessfully with a number of different approaches for vitiligo treatment.

Get an expert second opinion on this new vitiligo treatment for your skin condition today from Acuitus Medical.

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