CAIRO: The National Center for Research has announced that a currently existing drug can be used in treating vitiligo or leukodermia, known in Egypt as buhaq. Methotrexate, an immunosuppressant drug already used to treat psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, has been shown to be highly effective against vitiligo.
Vitiligo is an auto-immune disease estimated to afflict around a million Egyptians. Those with this condition suffer from a faulty immune system, which attacks cells that produce melanin. As a result, they lose their skin pigmentation. While the disease has a genetic component, environmental factors and stress also play a role.
“We split the patients into three groups of about 20 each, divided according to the severity of their case, Hani Nazir, the director of the research institute told The Daily Star Egypt. The drug was used the same way it is used to treat psoriasis.
“The results were a success rate of 85 percent for the mild group, over 60 percent for the moderates, and 35 percent for the severe cases. We consider these results very good in comparison to other treatments, he said.
In addition to having a high success rate, the treatment is far more convenient and cost-effective than other available treatments.
“When we use ultraviolet light to treat patients, they have to come into a clinic every week for treatment, Nazir explained. “Not everybody has the time and money to do this.
“This new treatment does not require the patient to be exposed to ultraviolet rays and to spend a lot of time in a clinic. However, this is an immunosuppressant drug. And it is absolutely necessary that the patient take it under medical supervision and not alone. It must be prescribed by a dermatologist and the patient must see [the doctor] once a month to check on the liver and renal function. After six months the treatment is completed.
Nazir noted, “We also do not prescribe this drug to children and pregnant or nursing women.
While Nazir was pleased with the new treatment, he stressed that there is still much work to be done to defeat this disease.
“The research never stops. We must raise the 35 percent success rate for the most severely afflicted patients. Like all auto-immune diseases, there is a genetic component to it, so I suspect that we will eventually have to turn to genetic treatments in order to put an end to it.