Animals with rare skin condition may help people

first_imgWhat did the late pop star Michael Jackson have in common with water buffaloes? An incurable skin disorder called vitiligo. In the uncommon condition, sufferers lose pigmentation and their skin turns blotchy. Vitiligo’s cause is a mystery, though autoimmune disorders may play a role in some cases. Stymieing research has been the lack of a good animal model. Now, scientists appear to have found one: the water buffalo. Four years ago, vitiligo researchers in New Delhi heard an odd tale from social workers. Villagers in a hamlet in western India were shunning buffaloes with blotchy bellies. They hauled back five of the pariah beasts last year (one pictured above), and found through skin biopsies that whitened patches of the buffaloes’ skin bore a “striking resemblance” to that of human vitiligo patients. Just like in people, the buffaloes’ blotches had vanishingly few melanocytes—pigment-bearing cells—and low levels of expression of pigmentation genes, the team reports online in the journal Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research. The New Delhi team hasn’t wasted any time making use of the new animal model. In one buffalo, patches have spread “confetti-like” from the animal’s tail to its rump and face in just 6 months; researchers are testing a new compound to see whether they can arrest further spread.last_img read more