Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Scientists Begin to Unravel Causes of Mysterious Skin Disease

ScienceDaily (Sep. 7, 2010) — Scientists including researchers from the University of Florida have discovered additional evidence that generalized vitiligo -- a disease that typically causes patches of white skin on the face, neck and extremities that pop star Michael Jackson may have experienced -- is associated with slight variations in genes that play a role in the body's natural defenses.

Writing in the June 6 edition of Nature Genetics, scientists describe how they found variations in 10 genes associated with the body's immune response in people with vitiligo. Normally an immune response is a good thing, but with vitiligo, cells that guard the body apparently become too aggressive, killing pigment-producing cells called melanocytes that give color to skin.

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"Generalized vitiligo is a complex disorder that involves not just genetics, not just the environment, but a combination of factors," said Margaret "Peggy" Wallace, a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology and a member of the UF Genetics Institute and the Center for Epigenetics. "A number of different targets for therapies probably exist. As we do more research on the pathways underlying vitiligo, we can begin figuring out ways to interrupt them. This could present an opportunity to practice personalized medicine, in which therapies are tailored to people with different genetic susceptibilities."

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