Piperine / Vitiligo Research
Research of the use of piperine for the treatment of vitiligo
Piperine – a novel treatment for vitiligo?
Piperine is the main component of the commonly used spice, black pepper. Dr Amala Soumyanath (formerly Amala Raman) and her research group at King’s College London were excited to discover that piperine can make pigment cells divide. Why was this important? Well, this result means that piperine might be useful in the treatment of a skin disorder called vitiligo. In vitiligo, patches of skin turn very white, in contrast to the person’s normal skin color. This is because the pigment cells (“melanocytes”) which are normally evenly spread through the skin, disappear from those specific areas. The exact causes of vitiligo are not completely known, but in most cases it is because the person’s immune system destroys these cells. The vitiligo patches can increase or decrease in size over time, or may just remain stable. The presence of these patches is not life threatening or contagious, but can be disfiguring if they occur in visible areas of skin like the face or arms. Vitiligo can negatively impact self-esteem and quality of life of a person with the condition. This is made worse by unpredictable changes in the patches, and the limited treatments that are available.
Why do we think piperine will work in vitiligo?
The following evidence from our laboratory studies leads us to believe that piperine will be helpful in causing repigmentation from the following evidence:
- Piperine stimulates mouse melanocytes (grown in a dish) to grow faster than without piperine (Lin et al, 1999; Venkatasamy et al, 2004)
- Piperine applied to the skin of mice with very few pigment cells makes the skin darker by increasing the number of pigment cells (Faas et al, 2008)
- Piperine combined with UV light (a standard treatment for vitiligo) causes the mouse skin to darken faster than using UV light alone (Faas et al, 2008)
- Piperine makes human pigment cells (grown in a dish) grow faster than without piperine (Thuillier et al (submitted))
- Piperine makes pigment cells derived from the normal skin of a vitiligo patient grow faster than without piperine (Thuillier et al (submitted))
- Piperine makes the pigment cells in artificial human skin grow faster than without piperine (Thuillier et al (submitted))
What further studies are planned?
Our ultimate goal is to make piperine available as a treatment for people with vitiligo. However, there are a number of studies that need to be performed before this can happen. These are the following:
Studies to verify the safety of piperine: It is important that we examine the possible negative effects of piperine on the skin, including its potential to overstimulate pigment cells that could cause unwanted effects. While we have evidence that suggests that this will not happen, we still need to carefully study this possibility before we apply piperine to humans.
Studies to determine the exact mechanism by which piperine stimulates pigment cells: In these studies, we hope to find out exactly what piperine does inside the pigment cell to make it grow more rapidly. Finding the pathway by which piperine works is an important understanding that must be defined in order to obtain FDA approval to use piperine in vitiligo. Knowing the pathway will also help us identify other new treatments which also affect this mechanism.
Early clinical studies in humans: OHSU dermatologists are eager to move forward with clinical studies to test piperine as a treatment for vitiligo.
How you can help
Research studies require funding. Dr Soumyanath and collaborators at OHSU have been applying, and will continue to apply to standard sources (like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support our research of piperine. However, NIH funding is limited, and in the present highly competitive environment it is by no means guaranteed. Furthermore, there is a substantial time delay an application to the award being made – generally more than one year.
Are you interested in supporting research to further understand piperine? We are seeking support from anyone interested in furthering this research – including people with vitiligo, and those who wish to help them. By donating to the Piperine Fund, you can support the studies outlined above and greatly speed up our research on piperine. The generation of initial results will strongly support our applications both to the NIH and to large Pharmaceutical companies to take this work forward and ultimately bring piperine to people with vitiligo.
Lin Z et al. Stimulation of mouse melanocyte proliferation by Piper nigrum fruit extract and its main alkaloid, piperine. Planta Med 1999; 65(7): 600-603
Venkatasamy R et al. Effects of piperine analogues on stimulation of melanocyte proliferation and melanocyte differentiation. Bioorg Med Chem 2004; 12(8): 1905-1920
Faas L et al. In vivo evaluation of piperine and synthetic analogs as potential treatments for vitiligo using a sparsely pigmented mouse model. British Journal of Dermatology 2008; 158: 941-950
Thuillier P et al. Effects of piperine on human melanocytes and melanoma cells in vitro. Submitted to Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, October 2013.