Harnessing the Vitiligo Effect. The onset of one disease may play a role in treating another.

A mouse in which vitiligo has been induced as part of a recent NCI study. When the subjects of experimental melanoma vaccine studies lose pigment in their skin after receiving treatment, few of them seem to mind. They overlook the cosmetically undesirable side effect because it's an excellent prognostic sign. For about 20 years, cancer research immunologists have known that some patients with melanoma develop vitiligo, an autoimmune disease--or, as some investigators contend, a complex of dis

Eugene Russo
Apr 25, 1999


A mouse in which vitiligo has been induced as part of a recent NCI study.
When the subjects of experimental melanoma vaccine studies lose pigment in their skin after receiving treatment, few of them seem to mind. They overlook the cosmetically undesirable side effect because it's an excellent prognostic sign. For about 20 years, cancer research immunologists have known that some patients with melanoma develop vitiligo, an autoimmune disease--or, as some investigators contend, a complex of diseases with immune and nonimmune biologic causes--that causes pigmentation loss in the skin.

As researchers develop better immunotherapies for melanoma--often using peptides or cytokines such as interleukin-2 (IL-2) to recruit the immune system's help in fighting off the cancer--they've not only seen patients' melanoma subside but have seen an increase in the frequency of vitiligo-associated discolorations.

The onset of vitiligo represents far more than a cosmetic nuisance or an inconsequential side effect. The autoimmune...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?