We are excited about our research to understand the causes and ultimately develop curative measures for your skin disorder. Since I’ve started working on vitiligo more than 20 years ago (my thesis in 1993 was about vitiligo as well) we have gained a lot in understanding why some people develop vitiligo. In this period of time, we’ve been able to identify vitiligo as an autoimmune disease. This means that your immune system mis-identifies your own pigment cells as ‘foreign’ and starts attacking them. We have figured out that it is primarily a specific immune cell, the T cell, that is responsible for killing pigment cells, leaving the skin without a source of pigment. We know a lot about what it is that the T cell sees to identify its targets. There have been major attempts to identify hereditary factors in vitiligo, and the genes identified to date support our findings to show that vitiligo is an autoimmune disease. We then wanted to understand why patients develop depigmentation when they do. How does ‘stress’ ultimately translate into an autoimmune response targeting melanocytes? We figured that if this response is funneled through a single molecule, we can possibly block its activity and halt disease development. This is what we set out to do when we initially investigated the role of HSP70 in vitiligo. We then engineered a variant to the molecule that works like an ‘off-switch’ in our mouse models of spontaneous vitiligo. We characterized what happened to immune responses in treated animals, and then found that the same changes in immune activation can also be found in (treated) human skin samples.
Our 2013 publication in Science Translational Medicine is the culmination of many years of work, and we hope to continue our research so we will be able to bring our findings to the clinic. If everything were decided in our favor, the earliest we could start a clinical trial to determine the safety of our drug in human patients will be 2 years. In the meantime, we will acquire regulatory approvals, identify sources of support to perform the trials, and test the safety and efficacy of our product in different models. We have already applied for further funding to support this work and our Institution, Loyola, has applied for a patent to cover the technology. We certainly plan to further pursue this and other avenues to treat vitiligo.
In the meantime, I would like to thank you wholeheartedly for your supportive comments, and some of you for the important samples you have already provided for our research to date. I hope we can count on you to help us out when we need to test our drug, look at or ask for samples of your skin, test your blood samples or fill questionnaires in the future. I am sorry that I cannot respond to each of you individually, but I will store your responses to address you in the future, unless you tell me otherwise.
If you have images of your vitiligo that you are willing to share with me, I would love use such images to put together one or more slides for presentations about our research. Don’t send me anything you are not comfortable with if I share the image(s) with colleagues or include it in publications, and let me know if there are parts of the image you would like us to cut to make sure you cannot be identified. And please do not feel obligated to send me an image if you do not want to.
I sincerely thank you for your time to address us about our research and hope that our paths will cross again.
Caroline Le Poole
I. Caroline Le Poole Ph.D.
Professor of Pathology,
Microbiology and Immunology
Loyola University Chicago
Oncology Institute Rm 203
2160 South First Avenue
Maywood, IL 60153
Dr. Le Poole can be contacted: firstname.lastname@example.org