As an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology at the Oregon Health & Science University, what sparked your interest in finding a cure for vitiligo?
My field of expertise is the identification of potential new drugs from natural sources e.g plants used in traditional medicines. I started working on finding a treatment for vitiligo while I was employed at the Pharmacy Department, Kings College London, University of London. This arose as a result of Maxine Whitton, then Chair of the UK vitiligo society, contacting me to see if I could shed any light on a traditional Chinese herbal treatment that one of the Vitiligo Society members had been given. I have since relocated to Oregon Health Science University, Portland OR. Although I am now focusing on botanical treatments for neurological diseases, my work on vitiligo is continuing.
How did you first make a connection between piperine and vitiligo?
We tested a large number of plant materials which had been used in herbal vitiligo treatments, to see if they could stimulate pigment cell multiplication in vitro i.e. in a culture dish (rather than real skin). We were excited to find that black pepper extract made pigment cells (melanocytes) reproduce faster and produce dendrites. A major substance found in black pepper piperine had a similar effect. We then verified this result when we applied piperine to a poorly pigmented mouse model and found that the skin darkened and had more melanocytes.
Have you begun testing on humans?
We are yet to start clinical studies, but are working towards that with the help of AdPharma.
A few readers have been making their own mixture of piperine and applying it directly to their skin. So far, they’ve had positive results with pigmentation, but how safe is piperine for external use?
Although piperine is available as a œdietary supplement and is approved by the FDA as a food additive, it is important to note that NO safety studies have been conducted on long term application to human skin. So there is no information on this at present.
Taking piperine by mouth has been shown to affect the way the body handles other drugs, often leading to higher blood levels of those drugs. We do not have any information on whether piperine applied to the skin can enter the blood stream and have similar effects. We hope to address these issues in our studies in humans.
*Financial disclosure: Dr Soumyanath is a consultant for AdPharma. AdPharma has also licensed technology from OHSU of which Dr Soumyanath is an inventor. The technology is used in this research. This potential conflict of interest has been reviewed and managed by OHSU
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