So many variables, so little money!
I sometimes wonder whether those of us who are afflicted with #vitiligo (an estimated one in 100 of the world's population) are justified in feeling frustrated about the lack of progress towards a permanent solution. As far as anyone knows, vitiligo has been around for as long as the human race and yet no remotely reliable #cure has been found in all that time. How can this possibly be? Well, justified or not, I certainly think a sense of frustration is understandable. After all, most of us – at some time or other - will have uttered the words “Isn't it wonderful what they can do nowadays!” The fact is that science and technology have advanced to a point where we actually expect the miraculous. After all, brain surgery, organ transplantation and sex changes are routine and cloning and genetic engineering are no longer science fiction but very much science fact. So, how hard can it be to find out what it is that causes a person's skin to turn white in patches and fix it? Apparently, the answer is “harder than you would think!”
Progress is being made behind the scenes. Inch by inch, researchers are making new discoveries about pigment loss (leukoderma) and vitiligo. Theories as to likely causes have evolved and successive, potential treatments have been pronounced “promising”. But, so far, most of the therapies that have emerged fall into the categories of traditional (e.g. herbal or nutritional), conventional (e.g. phototherapy and topical creams) or experimental, when what vitiligo sufferers the world over are waiting for is a brand new category: definitive. And the best that can be said about any of the existing treatments is that they all seem to work for some of the people, to some extent, some of the time. So, why is a universal cure so tantalisingly elusive?
The answer, it seems to me, is that – much like cancer research - there are so many variables involved that the task is not one of finding a single solution to a simple problem, but rather looking for several million solutions to several million different permutations of the problem. (Unfortunately, unlike cancer research, it is not well funded, so progress is that much slower.)
To give just a flavour of what I mean, the sum of all the available knowledge I can find to date on the subject of what causes vitiligo points to the likelihood that genetics are partly involved (i.e. people who have certain mutations to certain genes are more likely to develop vitiligo) but that any one or more of a number of different triggers may then also be involved in prompting the skin to start losing its colour. These include chemical or environmental sensitivities, allergies, hormonal imbalances, digestive problems, physical trauma and even mental stress. Not only are the triggers many and varied but so, it seems, are the #genetics that make some people more susceptible to these triggers than others.
Like many vitiligo sufferers, I was encouraged when researchers back in 2010
identified a gene mutation that increases the risk of vitiligo (and, interestingly, decreases the risk of skin cancer) and again in 2013 when the a genetically modified protein was heralded as a possible cure for vitiligo (and grey hair!). But, it turns out that there are in fact over 30 genetic variations occurring in different combinations that are associated with a greater risk of developing vitiligo. I have no doubt whatsoever that scientists are getting closer to success in their hunt for a cure. But it seems likely that these strides forward could be compared to glimpsing one lion in the long grass. Coming up with the universal cure for the condition could well be more like rounding up the whole pride.
My name is Caroline.