Can Vitiligo Help Prevent Melanoma From Coming Back?

Lead researchers

This research was led by:

Watch this video to learn about the cancer immunotherapy research that scientists and clinicians at Dartmouth Cancer Center are bringing to patients with melanoma.

Why did we do this research?

Vitiligo is the development of patches of very light-colored skin. People develop vitiligo due to our immune cells killing melanocytes (our cells that make skin pigment), causing them to turn white. Patients who get immunotherapy for their melanoma (a type of skin cancer) and who have vitiligo have responded well to treatment and have good survival, but we don't know why.

What did the research involve?

Melanoma survivors with vitiligo donated samples of skin, tumor, and blood. The researchers took the samples into the lab, and they took T-cells (cells in your body that protect against infections and cancer) out of these samples and used a new technology to find cancer-fighting T-cells. In some patients, they looked over many years to see if the cancer-fighting T-cells hung around.

What did we learn?

Patients who developed vitiligo had the cancer-fighting T-cells in their skin years after treatment. They had the same T-cells in their blood, too.

Why is this important?

Drs. Turk and Shirai are learning more about how our bodies' immune systems are able to keep cancers like melanoma at bay. This has changed our way of thinking about where immune cells are found in the body, the researchers will continue looking at samples donated by patients to see where these cancer-fighting T-cells are found.

Funding acknowledgement

This research was funded by the National Cancer Institute and the Knights of the York Cross of Honor.

Special thanks

We want to thank our Community Research Ambassadors Sara and Lorie for partnering with us to develop the video and content for this page. Thanks, Sara and Lorie!