2013-15 Ettelson Fund Recipient

Amala Soumyanath, Ph.D. - exploring a role for piperine in the treatment of vitiligo

The 2013 Ettelson Award for Dermatologic Research at OHSU has been awarded to Amala Soumyanath, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology, and Philippe Thuillier, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health and preventative medicine, for their work on piperine, a promising new treatment for vitiligo. Piperine, an extract of black pepper, has been demonstrated to safely enhance melanocyte growth in vivo. The goal of this innovative research is to offer people with vitiligo a new and effective treatment option. Learn more about this promising research.

While the research is led Soumyanath, the OHSU Department of Dermatology joined in to support this research when Sancy Leachman, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of dermatology, was hired in early 2013. Upon learning of the research and its potential, Dr. Leachman eagerly found funds to keep the project moving forward while additional sources of funding are sought. “I am very excited about supporting this research because it is in alignment with research I have been involved with and is focused on a disorder with very few therapeutic options.” Leachman continues, “The field of dermatology needs to take on this problem and by developing a better understanding of diseases of melanocytes we may be able to take steps to address other diseases, as well.”

To fully understand the promise of this science, it helps to understand a bit more not only about vitiligo, but also about melanoma. Vitiligo and melanoma have been described by some scientists as two sides of the same coin. Both are caused by dysfunction of melanocytes in skin. Vitiligo is caused when the immune system destroys melanocytes, leaving the skin white, splotchy and disfigured. While not life threatening, the chronic nature of vitiligo, its long term need for treatment, lack of uniform effective therapy and unpredictable course of the disease can be very demoralizing.

On the flip side of the coin, melanoma results when melanocytes grow out of control. Extensive preclinical data has demonstrated that while piperine may offer the ability to enhance melanocyte growth to benefit people with vitiligo, it also may reduce oxygenated stress in the melanocyte, which could serve as a candidate agent for melanoma prevention, as well.Donate to Vitiligo Research

If you would like to learn more about the exciting piperine research and/or you are interested in helping to support the development of this agent, visit our Piperine Research page.