Vitiligo is a skin disease leading to cutaneous depigmentations. Quality of life in patients with vitiligo is strongly impaired. The available treatments show disappointing results. Therefore, research that investigates the underlying mechanisms of this complex disease is crucial. This research could also provide insights for other autoimmune diseases and melanoma. In the last years, our group has investigated the clinical profile of vitiligo patients. Therefore, we can now better inform our patients with regard to their expected evolution and risk of associated disorders (e.g. thyroid disease). In the proposed project, we will use this experience in targeted lab analyses to unravel this complex disease.
The aim of this study is to explore the underlying mechanisms leading to the destruction of
pigment cells by the immune system. The main goal of the project is to investigate whether the immune system in vitiligo patients is more easily activated by small triggers (such as friction or trauma of the skin) than the normal population. This increased activation could cause an autoimmune reaction whereby normal pigment cells are aberrantly destroyed by the immune cells. The second goal of this project is to investigate in blood samples of vitiligo patients the amount and function of antigen presenting cells (immune cells that detect if a cell is "foreign" or not). This study may identify targets which can be used to develop new immunologic therapies.